PROVIDENCE — Following several weeks of careful consultations between the Diocese of Providence and the Governor’s Office and the Rhode Island Department of Health, public worship will resume in Catholic Churches on May 30, the Vigil of the Solemnity of Pentecost, following a set of guidelines released Wednesday by the diocese.
These guidelines were largely inspired by directives for the return to public worship recently prepared by the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“The re-opening of our churches for public worship, even with the necessary restrictions, is a moment of grace for all of us,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin in a statement.
“Our priority is to do all that we reasonably can to protect the health of our people, priests and liturgical ministers while also providing the salvific grace of the Holy Mass and the sacraments which, for believers, is indeed an essential service, allowing us to share in the life of Christ and opening for us the doors of eternal life,” the bishop said.
The Diocese has highlighted 10 guidelines for parishes to resume public worship, including the request that anyone who is sick must stay at home.
In early March, Bishop Tobin dispensed the faithful from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of obligation. The bishop has extended this dispensation for the faithful of the Diocese of Providence until further notice. Vulnerable populations, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions are encouraged to follow the most up-to-date health regulations and guidelines and remain home.
For worshippers coming to church, access to Mass will be restricted to a percentage of the church’s capacity as specified in the fire code.
Some parishes will request a "reservation" or ticket system, or find ways to split up parishioners alphabetically in as equitable a manner as possible.
At church, wearing masks and employing good hand hygiene are a must.
Parishioners will be expected to sanitize their hands immediately upon entry to the church. Likewise, they must wear a mask at all times, with the exception of when they receive Holy Communion.
The sign of peace remains suspended as physical contact between worshippers must be avoided at all costs, according to the guidelines. To avoid having to pass the collection basket, a secure receptacle will be made available for parishioners to drop off their budget envelopes before or after Mass.
Pews will be sectioned off in order to maintain six feet of distance between parishioners, and singing will be limited to reduce the risk of infection due to the release of aerosolized particles. To this end, hymnals will be removed from churches.
Parishioners wishing to receive Holy Communion will do so in a safe manner.
They will remove their masks to receive the Holy Eucharist, although the priest or other minister — who will always sanitize their hands before distributing Holy Communion and whenever they accidentally come into contact with a person — may wear a mask during this time.
According to the guidelines, parishioners are encouraged to receive Holy Communion on the hand, although they could also choose to refrain from receiving Holy Communion and make an act of spiritual communion instead.
To ensure everyone's safety, parish staff or volunteers will sanitize commonly touched surfaces and pews before and after every celebration of Mass.
Father Doug Grant, pastor of St. Mary of the Bay in Warren, shared online with his parishioners what they could expect to see upon returning to the parish.
“Finally, we are beginning to see signs of moving beyond the necessary but painful experience of ‘lockdown.’ Next weekend is the Feast of Pentecost, the culmination of the Season of Easter, and what a season it has been! A season of fear and confusion, a season of debate and common effort. It’s been all that and so much more. The corona virus will continue to lurk among us for the foreseeable future. We have to learn to live with it as much as possible,” Father Grant wrote.
In a message to faithful, Father Henry Zinno, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Bristol, said that Sunday Mass will still be live streamed for those who are elderly or are health compromised, asking them to remain at home.
“At first, 25% of Church capacity will be allowed — that means approximately 85 people here at OLMC Bristol in the body of the Church. We will offer our usual weekend schedule. Thankful to God that public Holy Mass will begin again,” he wrote.
At St. Paul Church in Cranston, the parish offered a list of what faithful could expect from the parish and what the parish expects of them including prayerfully discerning the risk of attending Mass in-person, arriving early to be checked in and seated and following physical distancing protocol at all times.
St. Paul parishioners will be able to RSVP to Mass online with links sent out through the parish Flocknote service. Parishioners must RSVP to attend Mass.
“The decision about returning to Mass requires considerable thought and prayer from all of us,” said Father Adam Young, pastor of St. Paul.
“As Christians we have a moral obligation to exercise prudence and charity, putting the health and welfare of others before our personal desires. The day will come when we can crowd into our beautiful church together for Mass once again, but until then, livestreams will continue.”
Father Roger Gagne, pastor of St. Peter Church in Warwick, shared a special message with parishioners as they look forward to coming together for the feast of Pentecost.
“Pentecost, the birthday of the church is a wonderful day for our rebirth and new beginning for all our parishes. I look forward to welcoming you for the celebration of Mass,” said Father Gagne.
For St. Pius X Parishioners in Westerly, Father Michael Najim announced the steps that the parish is taking to ensure a sacred, safe and healthy return to the public celebration of Holy Mass.
“As I see it, there are three very important goals we all need to keep in mind as we return: Keeping our focus on the sacredness of the Holy Mass; making sure we are doing everything possible to stay healthy and safe; maintaining a spirit of patience and cooperation — remembering that we are a family of faith.”
Father Najim added that while the faith community is looking forward to returning to Mass, everyone needs to be patient and cooperative with these changes.
“It won’t be this way forever! Eventually we’ll be able to get back to some semblance of normalcy. I would ask you to be patient with me as we navigate this unchartered territory, and please be patient with one another. I’m certain that we’ll have to adapt and adjust things as we return. This will be an imperfect transition, but the important thing is that we will soon be together again as a family of faith, being nourished by God’s Word and the Holy Eucharist.”
Returning to Public Celebrations of Holy Mass in Your Parish: