Bishop checks in with deacons during pandemic

Bishop J. Mark Spalding had an online meeting with the permanent deacons of the diocese to check on their well-being in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and on plans for their parishes’ resumption of public Masses.

“The bishop wanted to be sure everybody was on the same page” with their pastors, said Deacon Tom Samoray, director of the permanent diaconate for the Diocese of Nashville, who organized the meeting.

The message from the bishop to the deacons was to make sure they talk to their pastor about how the resumption of public Masses would be handled, Deacon Samoray said.

“It may be an opportunity for deacons to communicate even more with their pastors than they have in the past,” Deacon Samoray said. “This forces good dialogue in a positive way.”

“The bishop told them to be pastoral when people come back, be welcoming,” said Deacon Samoray.

The outreach parishes have been doing during the pandemic and the resumption of public Masses could help to bring people back to the Church who had left before the pandemic, said Deacon Samoray, who also is director of family life and marriage ministry for the diocese.

The meeting with the deacons was held a few days before the public celebration of Masses began on May 18. A follow-up meeting was held on Tuesday, May 26, to see how the first weekend Masses went, Deacon Samoray said.

According to reports from the deacons on the second call, “Everything went well,” Deacon Samoray said. “We basically didn’t have any unusual circumstances. The parishes had everything in place.”

When the bishop lifted the suspension of public Masses, he also offered guidelines to priests about celebrating Mass safely. Among the guidelines were: attendance was to be limited to no more than 50 percent of a church’s capacity and everyone attending Mass has been asked to wear a mask and maintain the proper social distance of at least six feet.

“Folks were following instructions,” said Deacon Samoray, who also serves at St. Stephen Catholic Community in Old Hickory.

In a letter to the faithful, Bishop Spalding said the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days would remain in effect until June 30. He reminded everyone that people in high-risk groups, such as people 65 and older or those with other health problems, or those uncomfortable being in large groups, can stay home and watch Mass online.

He also suggested parishes schedule extra Masses during the week and special Masses for people 65 and older to help keep the crowds at the weekend Masses down.

Those measures seemed to help keep down attendance at Masses on the weekend of May 24, Deacon Samoray said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of people coming back right away,” he said.

In the first meeting, “The bishop did stress that even as deacons if you’re 65 or older or in a vulnerable group, don’t be afraid to tell your pastor you’re not comfortable serving,” Deacon Samoray said. “You have to keep yourself safe. He stressed that pretty strongly.”