SAGINAW — Public Masses will resume for all parishes in the Dioceses of Saginaw on Saturday, May 30, but individual pastors may, at their discretion, begin celebrating Mass publicly as early as Monday, May 25, according to new directives issued by Bishop Robert D. Gruss.
As public Masses resume, Bishop Gruss says strict social distancing and safety guidelines must be in place in order to open for services.
“When you return to the celebration of the Eucharist, you will see things done differently, and things will feel different than when you last attended two months ago,” Bishop Gruss shared in a letter to the Faithful. “It is imperative for all of us – pastors, parish life directors, parish staff, volunteers, and all the faithful – to work together during these times. We all know that this pandemic is not over, and therefore, each of us must do our part to help ensure the health and safety of everyone in our communities.”
Hunger and Desire Among the Faithful
Acknowledging a hunger and desire among the Faithful to return to the sacramental life of the Church, Bishop Gruss expressed the need to continue practicing social distancing and rigorous sanitation.
“These past two months have been very challenging times,” Bishop Gruss said. “This pandemic and the requirements for social distancing has reshaped society. There will be no return to the ‘old’ normal. A ‘new’ normal will emerge from this historic moment in history and in our Church.”
All of the faithful over the age of 2 will be required to wear face coverings to Mass, keep at least six feet apart at all times when inside a parish church or on parish grounds (excluding those of the same household) and capacity inside churches may not exceed 20- 25 percent, according to the directives issued on May 19. The 25 percent figure follows state guidelines for other types of buildings, such as retail stores.
The bishop also announced that the Sunday obligation — the moral and canonical precept that requires weekly Mass attendance — would continue to be suspended for all of the faithful until at least Sunday, Aug. 30. Parishes are encouraged to continue offering Masses via live stream.
This gradual reopening of churches for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist comes several months after the diocese suspended public liturgies in order to help stem the spread of COVID-19 virus.
As we see the State of Michigan allow for the gradual reopening of some businesses, as the number of coronavirus cases and deaths from it continue to decrease, the Church is making preparations as well.
An Essential Element to Life
“We believe that the spiritual life of people is an essential element to life, and therefore, it is time to begin to gradually open this part of society for the communal celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” Bishop Gruss said.
The directives offer suggestions about how to keep Mass attendance at 20-25 percent capacity, including scheduling Masses with greater frequency, allowing attendance on a first-come first-served, a rotation based on the first letter of last names or an online ticketing system. Additionally, as the weather gets warmer, outdoor Masses are encouraged as a way to maintain social distancing.
“These liturgical Guidelines and Protocols are based upon current guidance issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health authorities,” Bishop Gruss said. “They also integrate the requirements of the Catholic Church teaching, liturgical law, and Canon law. These have been formulated with great care to preserve the respect and reverence due to the Holy Eucharist and the powerful liturgical sacramental symbolism of the rites of the Mass.”
Baptisms, weddings and funerals also may resume without individual permission, in keeping with social distancing rules. Non-liturgical gatherings on parish grounds should continue to be suspended, although pastors may grant special permission to groups of less than 10 people.
“Let us continue to pray for the end of this pandemic, for those on the frontlines putting their lives on the line serving the needs of the sick, for those who have contracted this virus and for those who have lost their lives from it,” Bishop Gruss said.
“As we gather back for the celebration of the Eucharist, we must take every precaution, be patient with one another, and continue to make sacrifices for the greater good of all.
“In the meantime, we continue to live the joy of the Resurrection. As I wrote in my Easter letter, the resurrection is not just a happy ending to a story. It is the promise of love which helps us pass this difficult road. This comforts us and gives us strength.”