As quickly as COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., the life of church-going Americans changed drastically, as this unknown virus forced parish doors to close. Churches were suddenly faced with the task of pivoting Mass online and finding ways to offer the sacraments in a safe way. For some parishes, it was an easier transition, while others had a harder time.
The effect was just as jarring for parishioners; suddenly it was impossible to physically go into a church to practice their faith. For months, the bulk of their worship was limited to Masses streamed on YouTube or Facebook. Some think that while many Catholics will jump back into Mass once churches reopen, others theorize that people have trailed off from watching Mass online, or believe they are fine without it and may never return. Here are some ways to keep Mass and the Catholic faith at the forefront of your members in a safe way.
Going Back to Mass
Depending where you are located, many dioceses have been gradually moving through phases and allowing parishes to open, while other offerings may still be on the back burner. For those returning, Mass looks nothing like it once did. Restrictions are dependent on local coronavirus data, so check your local diocesan website for specific restrictions and allowances.
Some of the most common restrictions parishioners can expect to see once they go back are:
- Social distancing
- Limiting attendance (25% or 50% in some areas)
- Required face masks (many states have mandates in place)
- Increased cleaning of pews, handrails, door handles, and other frequently touched items
- Changes in distribution of the Eucharist, offering the host only
- Eliminating the Sign of Peace
It’s worth noting that evidence suggests that, when health guidelines are followed, attending Mass does not increase a person’s risk for coronavirus.
For Those Still at Home
Many bishops have been granting dispensations from the Sunday obligation during the pandemic, even as churches begin to reopen. Despite any mitigation efforts on the parishes’ part, some may be understandingly hesitant to return. Keeping your changes — like live streaming and Zoom prayer meetings — in place for these populations will be important.
Beyond that, those who feel like they can’t safely return may still be experiencing great amounts of isolation. This is where the parish can step in. St. Brigid Catholic Church in Midland, Michigan offers a Mass intentions book online in which homebound parishioners can submit prayer requests. They also include a link to a request form for people to ask for help with grocery shopping, technological needs, yardwork, or even just conversation. The parish is also using this time to update contact information for parishioners, which can be beneficial when it comes to sending out requests for parish donations via email or snail mail. Maintaining the community and connections can mean the world to those who are isolating.
Other Online Resources
If your parish is limiting in-person Bible studies, book groups, or service committees, consider continuing them via Zoom, Skype, or another video conferencing app. For example, St. Timothy Catholic Church in Laguna Niguel, California, offers a weekly Bible study on the Sunday readings; adults can request the link in advance via email and join the conversation. If your parish has used a Dynamic Catholic book program in the past, you can continue by shifting any study groups online via videoconferencing. Likewise, Alpha has already moved its sessions online — video guides on its website offer tips to make this happen seamlessly.
How is your parish approaching reopening? Let us know!