Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Denver Catholic on April 21,2020. It is reprinted here with permission.
As painful as the decision was to suspend all public Masses in the Archdiocese of Denver, the process was straight-forward and necessary for the common good.
When health restrictions are eased and we are able to start gathering together again, it is important for everyone to understand that things won’t immediately go back to normal.
Health experts and elected officials are currently determining new guidelines and restrictions for the next weeks and months, and at the same time the Archdiocese of Denver is planning for how public Masses will be celebrated with respect to any new regulations.
We know the desire to return to your parishes, participate in the liturgy, and receive the Eucharist is incredibly strong, but we ask that everyone approach this next phase with a patient, loving and charitable mindset.
The specific details of when public Mass will resume and how it will look are still being determined, but here are five things for everyone to be prepared for.
1. Attendance will be limited.
We know restrictions will remain on holding large gatherings, so we are working with parishes to determine a fair way to cap attendance for Masses. It is important for people to register to receive communications from their parish so they will know how their parish is going to handle how many people can attend any given Mass and who those people may be, e.g., sign-up systems, assigned days, etc. No one should expect to be able to attend Mass with regularity.
2. Social Distancing will be practiced.
Expect that your parish will have pews/rows that are taped off, and that families will be asked to keep six feet of separation from other families. Be prepared to wear a mask to Mass to guard against germ spread. If you are showing any symptoms of sickness, please stay home.
3. Liturgical changes will be in place.
Similar to protocols established in early March, extra precautions will be taken, like suspending the distribution of the Precious Blood and receiving Holy Communion only on the hand.
4. A general dispensation from the Sunday obligation will remain.
For at-risk groups, those who have symptoms, and anyone who feels safer staying at home, no one will be required to attend. Because your family might only be able to attend Mass on an irregular basis, and not necessarily on Sunday, plan to continue to keep the Sabbath holy by participating in livestream and pre-recorded Masses.
5. There still will be a risk for anyone who attends a public Mass.
Even with best health practices and strict social distancing, anyone who enters a public space should recognize there is a risk of contracting the coronavirus. Improved cleaning will occur at our churches, but no one should expect that they will be any safer from germs than other public spaces.
6. Finally, let’s strive for progress and not perfection.
There will no doubt be challenges and frustrations. Your family might not be able to attend Mass the first few weeks it resumes. A parish might have a sign-up blunder and things won’t go according to plan. But we believe following these guidelines is a reasonable sacrifice. As we see numbers flatten and decrease, we are beginning to sense the situation improving. For the interest of the common good, and ultimately to best serve our own community, we do not want to contribute to a rebound effect that would actually push normalized Mass attendance even further into the future.
So if we all work together, we can ease back into this and continue to incrementally add more people and options. However, if we look for ways to get around the regulations, we will likely create situations that force us to take steps back.