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Roman Catholic dioceses prepare to resume public Mass

A Catholic priest
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Roman Catholic churches across Michigan will begin offering public Masses to the faithful this week. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, all dioceses in Michigan had temporarily suspended public Masses. As different sectors of the economy begin to re-open, so too are religious services, beginning with very small, weekday and private Masses.

The Archdiocese of Detroit is opening Mass to the public beginning on Tuesday. While the official re-opening of public Mass for the Archdiocese is May 29, parishes were given an eleven day window to prepare, and were encouraged to keep services happening within that eleven day window small and private.

Reverend Stephen Pullis is the director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Detroit. He says parishes within the Archdiocese can offer public Mass during the eleven day window between today and May 29, provided that they can meet four key criteria, the first being the limiting of attendance to 25% capacity of the church’s building.

“The parish would have to be ready to enforce that 25% capacity, so different parishes would have different plans to do that. Some would have a call ahead registration, others would have ushers or people at the door, counting people to make sure that they adhere to that,” he said.

The second is having seating that would allow for physical distancing of six feet between households. The third is having proper cleaning and sanitization processes in place for before and after Mass. The last of the criteria is making sure that all attendees are wearing masks or some kind of face covering. 

Pullis says parishes have some freedom to make adjustments, depending on their unique congregations, while still maintaining a high standard of public health and safety.

The Diocese of Lansing began offering public Masses on Monday, limiting attendance to 5% of a church building’s capacity. 

David Kerr is the director of communications for the Diocese of Lansing. He says parishes throughout the Diocese have been issued thorough guidelines for resuming Mass.

“These guidelines cover everything from the holy water stoops to singing at Mass, the distribution of Holy Communion, and everything in between in order to ensure that the priest knows what he has to do, that the lay faithful know what they have to do, and that collectively, together, we make sure that attendance at Holy Mass is both a beautiful thing but a very safe thing as well,” says Kerr.

Kerr says the Diocese plans to increase the number of parishioners permitted at Mass to 25% of a church building’s capacity on May 29, in anticipation of the Feast of Pentecost. 

Similar plans for resuming Mass are in place in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. The celebration of daily public Masses will resume on May 27, with Pentecost being the first Sunday Mass. The Diocese is also imposing an attendance limit of 25% capacity of a church building. It’s also asking that parishioners wear a mask or face coverings, and have allowed for physically distanced seating and altered the distribution of Communion.

The Diocese of Gaylord, which encompasses most of the northern Lower Peninsula, is resuming public Mass beginning on May 20. The Diocese's plan is similar to the other dioceses in the state, with the same 25% capacity limitation and provisions for physical distancing and the expectation that parishioners wear masks or face coverings. The plan also involves removing hymnals, missals, and worship aids from the pews, and says parishioners should expect music from only a cantor, or no singing at all (due to the airborne spread of COVID-19). Father Pullis of Detroit mentioned that some parishes planned to use recyclable worship materials instead of hymnals, or planned to offer these materials online.

"We've also offered ideas that a lot of these resources are available online, and it might be helpful for the parish to put these together on their website and then invite people to pull out their phones or their iPads and follow along digitally. Normally, we wouldn't encourage people to pull out their phones during Mass, but this might be a time that that's a helpful resource."

Most dioceses are also offering guidelines on how the faithful can take Communion. This involves both the priest and the parishioner sanitizing their hands before giving and receiving Communion, and making sure the verbal exchange is said six feet apart before approaching to receive Communion. There will be no offering of the wine, or Blood of Christ, during Communion, only the wafer.

The Dioceses of Grand Rapids, Saginaw, and Marquette all plan to release plans for resuming public Mass in the coming days.

Part of Roman Catholic doctrine is the obligation for practicing Catholics to attend Mass each Sunday. Most dioceses have given dispensation to this obligation, meaning Catholics are not required to attend. For most dioceses, this dispensation extends until September 6, 2020.

Caroline is a third year history major at the University of Michigan. She also works at The Michigan Daily, where she has been a copy editor and an opinion columnist. When she’s not at work, you can find her down at Argo Pond as a coxswain for the Michigan men’s rowing team. Caroline loves swimming, going for walks, being outdoors, cooking, trivia, and spending time with her two-year-old cat, Pepper.