No absolute mandate will be issued from Rome to the universal Church, nor from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to U.S. Catholics. Distinctions between large parishes and small, between cities greatly affected and rural towns outside of major contagion zones, are too significant for a one-size-fits-all rubric.
Nonetheless, the USCCB has wisely assembled working guidelines encompassing both medical expertise and liturgical norms for each bishop to consider as he issues directives to his pastors. In turn, each pastor will consider his local area’s infection rate, state and city guidelines, as well as his own personnel and physical facility, and what can reasonably be implemented to keep his community safe.
These safeguards are recommended, not only for the safety of the individual congregants, but for those they encounter outside of church to help stem the tide of community spread of a highly contagious and deadly virus. As Pope Francis said in an April 2020 interview in Vida Nueva as reported in America, “for better or worse all our actions affect others because everything is connected in our common home."
These are some general guidelines your pastor is being asked to take into account as he plans to reopen your parish:
- Do everything that can be done with live-streaming or virtual media for the sake of the sick, elderly, those with underlying health conditions or in quarantine who should not congregate.
- Hold services outdoors if possible.
- Keep indoor services well ventilated.
- Common objects (i.e. missalettes, holy water fonts, literature, offertory baskets) are to be removed from pews.
- Aggressive cleaning of commonly touched surfaces must be practiced.
- Hand sanitizer should be available at entrances.
- Bathrooms must be rigorously cleaned, number of users limited, spacing marked.
- Those in the assembly should wear masks. The presider and sanctuary ministers will not be masked or gloved but will maintain physical distancing.
- Mark social distances with tape, signs, paint. Families/parties arriving together may sit together but apart from others by six feet.
- Number of participants will be limited. Participants may call or text ahead for reservations. Last name initial rotations may be used. Ticket services may be employed.
- Avoid singing by cantor or congregation, which spreads infectious droplets farther.
- Collection baskets will not be passed. Offerings may be collected at a stationary site.
- Processionals, recessionals, bringing up the gifts are discouraged. Receiving lines are to be eliminated. Entering and existing pews may be overseen by ushers.
- Doors should be held open and their handles not commonly touched.
- Dismissal may be handled row by row. Parishioners are encouraged not to stand in groups on church grounds.
The distribution of Holy Communion is an issue sensitive and fraught with complications, with each diocese providing its own recommendations.
Materials the USCCB recommends for preparing diocesan guidelines:
Reopening: Guidance for Worship Services and Religious Gatherings – AIHA Guidance Document, Version 1 (May 15, 2020), 10 pp. www.aiha.org
Road Map to Re-Opening Our Catholic Churches Safely – Ad Hoc Committee of Catholic Doctors (May 2020), 9 pp.
COVID-19: Guidelines on Sacraments and Pastoral Care – Working Group on Infectious Diseases Protocols for Sacraments and Pastoral Care, Version 1.2 (May 7, 2020), 24 pp.