Bishop J. Mark Spalding has begun planning for the resumption of the public celebration of Masses in the Diocese of Nashville and has appointed a working group of clergy and lay people to assist him in the planning process.
“No doubt you have heard some of our civic leaders discussing the possibility of restarting public activities in Tennessee in the coming weeks and months,” Bishop Spalding wrote in a letter to the faithful released on Friday, April 24. “In light of those intentions, I would like to announce to you today that we have begun developing plans to phase back in the public celebration of Mass and other church activities here in the Diocese of Nashville.”
The working group assisting the bishop with the planning will be chaired by Father John Hammond, a Vicar General of the diocese.
Other members of the working group include: Father Dexter Brewer, a Vicar General; Father Pat Kibby, Vicar of Priests; Father Austin Gilstrap, Vocations Director; Deacon Hans Toecker, Chancellor of the diocese; Brian Cooper, Chief Administrative Officer and Vice Chancellor; Rick Musacchio, Director of Communications; Joan Watson, Director of Faith Formation; Bill Staley, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry; Betty Lou Burnett, Director of Pastoral Care at Holy Family Church in Brentwood; and Dr. Wes Ely, a parishioner at the Cathedral of the Incarnation and a professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
The working group will be advising the bishop in light of guidance from state and local authorities and public health officials about resuming public Masses. That state has issued guidelines that apply to 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. In the other six counties, including Davidson County, local officials will set the guidelines.
The situation is fluid, with developments hard to predict, Bishop Spalding noted.
“While it will not be possible to resume the public celebration of Mass immediately, we hope to consider beginning modified celebrations of Mass open to the public in mid-May,” the bishop wrote.
Bishop Spalding encouraged people to continue to protect their health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Even when public Masses have resumed, I encourage those who are vulnerable, sick or otherwise at risk or concerned about contracting or spreading disease, to refrain from attending Mass,” Bishop Spalding wrote. “Those who do choose to return to Mass should observe all guidelines concerning social distancing and diligent hygiene.”
As planning for the resumption of public Masses continues, the bishop has extended his decree issuing a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days through June 30, “in order to permit all of you to exercise prudent care over your health and wellbeing and charity towards others,” Bishop Spalding wrote.
The COVID-19 pandemic worsened in March, leading to a growing number of cases in Tennessee, a recommendation from federal health officials against gatherings of 10 people or more, and safer-at-home orders from state and local officials.
In light of those developments, Bishop Spalding issued a decree on March 17 granting a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass through April 3, and at the same time ordered a halt to the public celebration of Masses.
On April 1, Bishop Spalding extended the dispensation to attend Mass and the suspension of the public celebration of Mass until April 24. He extended the dispensation again, this time through June 30, on April 24.
Without the public celebration of Masses, parishes have been livestreaming Masses as well as sharing other activities online such as faith formation classes, bible-study groups, Eucharistic adoration, homilies and reflections.
Catholic schools in the diocese have followed similar precautions, implementing distance learning. Earlier in April, the diocesan Catholic Schools Office announced distance learning would continue through the rest of the academic year. The last day of classes are scheduled for May 15.
“As I have assured you throughout this time, please know of my sincere love and concern for all of you and your families,” Bishop Spalding wrote to the faithful. “My thoughts and prayers are with you. Let us pray together that this time of renewed optimism for an end to this time of crisis may soon be brought to fulfillment by the power of God’s loving care and providence.”