Public Masses Restart in Worcester

posted by Mike on May 20th, 2020

The Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, is restarting public masses this week.

Worcester Catholics have not been obliged to attend mass during the pandemic, and mass remains optional.

This plan takes the statewide safety standards for worship and adds a few tweaks. Here’s a PDF of the diocesan guidelines.

As the state asks:

  • Households will be masked and stay six feet apart. Some pews will be blocked off to maintain this distance.
  • No more than 40% the usual maximum occupancy will be allowed in the church.
  • No collection basket will be passed.
  • The parishes will come up with some way for people to leave church in an orderly, spaced manner.
  • People will not gather after mass, whether to schmooze with the priest on the front steps, or to share coffee and donuts in the church basement.

Some tweaks:

  • There will be no hymnals or bulletins. “One time use” paper worship aids are allowed, so a parish could print out the readings and make them available in the pews. Alternately “the faithful may also be reminded of online sources for the daily readings… which may be accessed on their cell phone.”
  • You can receive Holy Communion. This involves briefly removing your mask, of course. An usher will give you a squirt of hand sanitizer as you exit your pew to stand in line. People should stay 6 feet apart while in line for Communion. The priest or Eucharistic minister will keep their mask on. They will not refuse to place the consecrated host on your tongue, rather than in your hands, but they do discourage this. If the minister accidentally touches someone while distributing the host, they will stop and sanitize their hands before continuing. (In my experience they are pretty good at sanitizing before beginning, but I’ve never seen someone take a break in the middle like that.) If I am reading this right, while on the altar, the hosts will be kept in a closed container” at some distance from the breath of the celebrant.” (This seems like a great change.)
  • Church doors will be propped open, so nobody will have to touch them.
  • There will be very little singing. (Please let’s not joke about how New England Catholics never sing anyway.) Singing seems like the only thing that would make attending mass riskier than working in an office for an hour. The music will be instrumental or sung only by the cantor (no choirs). The exception are a few parts of the mass like the “Agnus Dei.” I am counting fewer than 40 words total that would be sung by the congregation.
  • The priests and liturgical ministers will not process down the central aisle at the beginning or end of mass.
  • Altar servers will wear masks while handling bread, wine, and water. They will otherwise be unmasked.

Some current restrictions will remain in place:

  • The consecrated host, but not the consecrated wine, will be distributed at Holy Communion.
  • People will not touch each other while exchanging the sign of peace.
  • There will be no open fonts of holy water.
  • Churches will be disinfected thoroughly after each mass.

Priests, deacons, altar servers, and other liturgical ministers will be unmasked for most of the mass.

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