Two months have passed since parishioners in the Diocese of Harrisburg have been able to attend Mass in person. That is about to change for those living in Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties. These four counties recently transitioned from “red” to “yellow” and the parishes in these counties can reopen their doors this weekend.
“Like many, our parishes and parishioners have been asked to sacrifice so much since the stay at home orders took effect in mid-March. I know this experience has been incredibly difficult, especially since we have not be able to gather together in person for Mass. I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for the continued faith and support our parishioners have shown to their local parishes during this time,” said Bishop Ronald W. Gainer. “As the stay at home orders begin to lift and we are able to gather together again for Mass, I ask our parishioners to continue supporting your parish during these times of transition. There will be changes to Masses and in-person gatherings for the foreseeable future as a means to ensure your protection, as well as the protection of your loved ones, our pastors and parish staff, and all of their families. Please be patient with us as we continue to travel this unexpected and ever changing path.”
As the Diocese and our parishes begin the process of gathering together again, guidelines were announced last week to aid in the reopening, while still protecting the health and safety of those gathering for worship. The guidelines were developed after reviewing the directives from the Governor’s Office and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as studies provided through the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As the pandemic continues to present new challenges, the Diocese will continue to review and amend these directives as needed.
Parishes in the four counties in the “yellow” phase of reopening, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union, can resume Masses this weekend, so long as health and safety guidelines from the Diocese are followed.
“A lot of consideration went into the guidelines, with every thought being how could we best protect the health and safety of our parishioners, pastors and parish staff, while at the same time beginning the process of gathering again and returning to somewhat “normal” operations,” said Bishop Gainer. “It is our prayer that with these guidelines in place, our parishes will quickly be able to re-open and meet the spiritual needs of the faithful, in person, as soon as possible.”
The full guidelines for parishes in “yellow” counties are available on the Diocesan website at www.hbgdiocese.org/coronavirus. While these are general guidelines, individual pastors may choose to continue some restrictions if the health and safety of their parishioners are still in question.
Several highlights in these guidelines include:
- The continued dispensation from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. All Mass livestreams are to continue.
- Public Masses may resume at the Pastor’s discretion, so long as social distancing and proper sanitation is observed. Sanitation must take place after every Mass. Parish buildings may contain no more than 1/3 occupancy at any given time. Please contact your parish directly for more information on any changes to Mass schedules, such as additional Mass times. Public Masses may also take place in church halls, outdoors and in church parking lots.
- All parishioners attending Mass must wear a face mask. Masks may only be removed when receiving Holy Communion.
- Holy Communion will be distributed after Mass. We recommend that Holy Communion be received on the hand.
- Confessions may resume at the Pastor’s discretion, pending social distancing and proper sanitation are followed. Creative means of confessions, including using outdoor spaces, are encouraged.
- Weddings, funerals, and baptisms may resume, so long as occupancy and all protective measures are followed.
- Adoration chapels may be opened with limited hours, limited occupancy and strict sanitation after each visitor.
- Parishes are to use tape or rope to indicate proper social distancing within the parish buildings, including the pews.
- Proper sanitation will occur after every gathering and at the close of every day.
- Holy Water fonts will remain empty. Bottled holy water may be available for parishioners to take home.
- All hymnals, missals, missalettes and Bibles will be removed. Printed worship aids may be provided for all public Liturgies. These worship aids will be disposed by parishioners when leaving the church. Projection devices may also be used.
- The Sign of Peace will continue to be omitted.
- Limited public entrances may be opened.
A significant change for parishioners will be the distribution of Holy Communion, which will take place after Mass.
“We made the decision to temporarily move reception of Holy Communion to after Mass after reviewing significant information from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as well as the safety recommendations from our state healthcare professionals,” said Bishop Gainer. “This change will help our pastors to better ensure proper social distancing and sanitary conditions.”
Below are the procedures parishes are asked to follow:
- After the priest’s reception of Holy Communion (and that of the other clergy present), the priest places the vessel with the consecrated hosts for distribution into the tabernacle. Mass then continues and is concluded.
- After the Dismissal or after the final hymn, a small table with hand sanitizer is set up at the location for distribution of Holy Communion.
- The assembly forms a line to receiving Holy Communion, keeping six feet apart.
- The priest will begin the distribution of Holy Communion with, “Behold, the Lamb of God . . .” The people make the response, “Lord, I am not worthy.”
- Each communicant approaches to receive Holy Communion, lowering their mask when they are next to receive. We recommend that Holy Communion be received on the hand.
- The priest (or, whoever is distributing), should purify and sanitize his hands as often as he thinks is necessary. This is not necessary after each person. It is necessary if contact has been suspected or if a communicant requests it.
Although we all long for the day when we can gather again, following the directives of our state government, those who are sick, or those who have health conditions that make them more susceptible to illness (or germs and viruses), should continue to remain at home at this time. The Diocese of Harrisburg will continue to update these guidelines regarding public Mass and the sacraments. The most up to date information can be found online at www.hbgdiocese.org/coronavirus.
Rachel Bryson, M.S., The Catholic Witness