Parish Update - Public Masses to Resume when Montgomery County lifts stay-at-home order
I pray that this letter finds you well.
I apologize for the length – there are a lot of question people have been asking. For those who want the tl;dr version: We’ll start celebrating Mass publicly as soon as Montgomery County permits us to do so. Now, for the long version:
I am sure that all of you are feeling the same thing that I am feeling: a desire to see each other and to join together again as a community at Mass. By now I’m sure that everyone has heard about Governor Hogan’s modifications to the Maryland stay-at-home order. Additionally, you may have heard that the Archdiocese of Washington has begun the process of publishing a timeline and guidelines for parish reopenings. I’d like to offer this letter to you as an update on where we are as a parish in terms of returning to the public celebration of the Mass.
I would have liked to send this update out sooner but there was very little information to communicate. I am grateful for your patience as we all waited for public information to be released.
Return to Public Celebration of the Mass
On Friday (5/15) the Archdiocese of Washington published its guidance for the reopening of parishes for the public celebration of Mass. This was in response to Governor Hogan’s announcements on Wednesday (5/13). The Archdiocese informed pastors that if they were located in counties impimenting Governor Hogan’s newly released guidelines (as this time only Calvert and Saint Mary’s counties) that public Masses could begin again on Monday, May 25th. For counties such as ours, we were informed that public Masses should not begin again until the county-issued stay-at-home order was lifted.
While this does mean that parishes in Montgomery county will be delayed in resuming public Masses, it also gives us the advantage that we will be prepared once our county modifies current restrictions. There will of course be modifications made to how we worship at Mass.
Celebrating Mass in a Safe Manner
While many long to be able to once again receive the Eucharist at Mass, there are also many who are vulnerable in terms of health and understandably cautious about venturing out into a public space. While many details remain to be worked out in coordination with all those who serve at our liturgies, what follows is a list of some of the things that we can expect.
Dispensation from Obligation to attend Sunday Masses: For the foreseeable future, even after public Masses resume, the faithful are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. Of course, even when not attending Mass, one can and should always find a way to make Sunday a prayerful and holy day – especially by meditating on the Sunday Readings.
Livestreamed Masses: Unless circumstances prevent it, I intend to continue to livestream Mass on Sunday mornings for those who feel uncomfortable attending Mass in public. The time may need to change to account for the public Mass schedule.
Social Distancing and PPE: For those attending public Masses, it will be necessary to always maintain an appropriate social distance from others, especially while receiving communion. Obviously family members from the same household can sit together, but everyone else should sit so as to maintain a safe distance from others. While on the Church property, everyone will be asked to wear a mask and to use hand sanitizer. I am working to obtain bulk hand sanitizer, but bringing personal hand sanitizer would be helpful. While I will not wear a mask while in the sanctuary, in order to maintain the decorum proper to the Mass, I do intend to wear a mask during the distribution of communion (although probably not the one I’m wearing on the front page of the monocle). Currently the parish does not own enough masks to be able to distribute them. Please be prepared to bring you own mask. If this is a hardship please send me an email and I will be able to help.
Mass Times and Locations: Obviously, it will be necessary to keep out church clean and sanitized. This will mean cleaning all of the pews and any surface that was touched during Mass. It will also mean allowing air to circulate in and out of the building. It is likely that we will need to adjust Mass times in order to allow for adequate cleaning. Additionally, it will be necessary to move our daily Masses to the Church in order to allow for social distancing. Because we will continue to record and broadcast Masses from the Chapel, I will not be able to leave the chapel open for prayer during the day at this time. I will, however, seek to continue our current practice of offering outdoor Eucharistic Adoration and confessions several days a week, as weather permits.
Reception of Holy Communion: As you might expect, the reception of Holy Communion will be complicated by the current safety practices. Nevertheless, it will be possible to receive Holy Communion. We will only be able to distribute the Body of Our Lord. Unfortunately, Precious Blood will not be able to be distributed. If this poses a problem to you for health reasons, please contact me in advance to let me know and we will find a safe accommodation. While reception of the Eucharist in the Hand is recommended, we will make safe accommodations for those who choose to receive the Eucharist on the tongue.
The Rhythm of the Mass: Understandably, the rhythm of the Mass will shift for the foreseeable future. We will need to keep the number of people in the sanctuary to a minimum. Additionally, you will find that the Mass will be celebrated with reverent brevity. It may be necessary to reduce or eliminate the noble practice of singing during Mass. Additionally, it will not be possible to linger in the Gathering Space before or after Mass.
There are many details yet to be worked out but I hope that this gives some direction as we move forward. In the coming days and weeks we will publish more specific guidance on how we will proceed.
I have been incredibly touched and edified at the generosity that I have seen from so many of you how have moved to making financial contributions to the parish via Faith Direct and also by so many who have mailed in contributions. This has allowed the parish to maintain its financial stability and we have been fortunate in the fact that we have not been forced to furlough or eliminate any employment positions.
I know that these months are a time of sacrifice for so many and I want you to know that your generosity has been greatly appreciated for the good of this parish community. My approach at this time is to be as cautious as possible in terms of parish spending without compromising sacramental life, outreach, or safety.
While I have been working to procure necessary supplies, if anyone wishes to donate bulk cleaning supplies, especially hand sanitizer, such a gift would not be refused.
As always, we try to keep the website and Facebook page as up-to-date as possible.
I will you all good health and God’s blessings. If there is anything I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.
With prayers and best wishes,