ROCKVILLE CENTRE, NY — Even though Long Island is still at least two weeks away from meeting the requirements laid out by the state to begin reopening, the Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre said it is starting to formulate plans to bring Mass back once restrictions are lifted.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Bishop John Barres outlined the considerations by church officials and gave a preview of what Mass may look like in a post-coronavirus world. The Diocese of Rockville Centre, which encompasses all of Long Island and its 1.5 million Catholics, announced in March that it was canceling all Masses for a month. That was then extended when Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued his NY ON PAUSE order, which banned all large gatherings.
Before Long Island can begin reopening, it needs a two-week decline in the number of deaths attributed to the virus, something that has not yet begun to happen. Barres acknowledged the devastation the virus created in the community, citing the tens of thousands who became sick and the thousands more who died.
“All of this leaves us with an enormous challenge: when and how to reestablish public liturgies in a way that does not irresponsibly place the common good and the health of our people in grave danger,” Barres wrote. “These are serious moral issues. If we can protect the sanctity of human life and the stability of our healthcare system by cooperating with sensible limitations and safety practices, then we have a moral obligation to do so.
“This is not a surrendering of our right to practice our Faith. It is an exercise of our moral responsibility for the common good. Therefore, we are carefully forming our plan for the reopening of public Mass in consultation with medical experts and civil authorities who share in our responsibility for the common good.”
Barres said it is unclear when Masses and other sacraments — such as communions, baptisms, weddings and funeral Masses — will be allowed to continue. He also said that, when Masses do begin again, they will most likely be different than what people are accustomed to.
Masses may have different schedules to allow for cleaning of churches between services, Barres said. Parishioners may also be required to wear masks to services. There may be limited capacity in order to maintain social distancing, and the way Communion is distributed may also be changed.
“This will involve tremendous coordination between clergy, parish staffs and volunteers, as well as training and preparation,” Barres wrote. “Guidelines and protocols are being developed that will be shared with pastors. The dispensation from the obligation to physically attend Mass will likely remain in place for a time, especially to protect the elderly and most vulnerable among us.”
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