Diocese provides parishes with guidelines to resume public Masses

St. Ignatius of Antioch Church is already preparing to resume public Masses on Monday, May 18. To limit attendance to no more than 50 percent of the church’s capacity, the parish has blocked off every other pew. It also has marked the seats in the pews and the aisles to help people keep a safe social distance of six feet

Bishop J. Mark Spalding has announced that a gradual resumption of the celebration of public Masses in the Diocese of Nashville will begin on Monday, May 18.

He also has issued recommended guidelines for pastors to make sure they and their congregations are protected when public Masses resume.

“While a cause for celebration, it is important to recognize at the same time that these first steps are not simply an open call to return as normal,” Bishop Spalding wrote in a letter to the faithful of the diocese released on Thursday, May 7.

“The risk of COVID-19 remains significant, especially to seniors and persons with existing health concerns,” Bishop Spalding wrote. “As we return to Mass, we must continue to embrace the responsibility of protecting the health and well-being of all in our community.”

Although the gradual resumption of public Masses will begin May 18, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days will remain in effect through June 30, Bishop Spalding said in his letter to the faithful.

“Those who have an active ongoing illness (including infection, flare of a chronic illness, etc.), anyone over the age of 65, those with a history of heart failure, lung disease, diabetes, ongoing malignancy, any immunosuppressive disorder, those on steroids or other immunosuppressive medications, those who have been advised by a health care professional not to attend Mass, and those who live with anyone with any health vulnerability, are strongly encouraged to remain at home at this time and refrain from attending Mass,” Bishop Spalding wrote.

“Additionally, anyone who is worried that attending Mass would add undue stress or jeopardize their health or the health of a person with whom they live, are also encouraged to remain at home,” he added.

Among the diocese’s recommended guidelines for parishes are:

• Pastors are encouraged to offer special Masses on weekdays particularly for those 65 or older rather than have them attend the more crowded Sunday Masses.

• Parishes are encouraged to continue livestreaming Masses to provide for the spiritual nourishment of those remaining at home.

• The suspension of distributing the Precious Blood at Communion and refraining from any physical exchange of the Sign of Peace will continue, and holy water fonts will remain empty.

• Pastors should strongly encourage all parishioners, out of charity for their clergy and their neighbor during this time of ongoing risk of infection, to receive the Holy Eucharist in the hand. The bishop urged this, but gently and with sensitivity. No persons may be denied Holy Communion because they are unwilling to honor this request. 

• Pastors have been encouraged to consult with key lay leaders to formulate plans for maintaining social distancing as parishioners come to worship, as they are seated in the church, as they approach the sanctuary for the Rite of Communion, and how they depart the worship space. 

• Attendance at Mass will not exceed 50 percent of the capacity of the church. To do that, pastors may consider adding Masses or holding simultaneous Masses in additional locations as well as blocking of every other row of pews. Families who live under one roof will be encouraged to sit together and maintain six feet of separation from others.

• All guidelines for personal hygiene are to be followed, especially those concerning hand washing and sanitizing, and all present should wear a mask or facial covering.

• Choirs and other musicians must observe social distancing. Therefore, pastors should consider temporarily reducing musical personnel to a soloist or small group of singers.

• All non-liturgical gatherings at the church must be limited to 10 people or less.

• Pastors should plan prudently for home visitations and care for the sick in hospital settings, with precautions that reflect the serious dangers inherent in being infected with the Coronavirus. Pastors should creatively find ways to assist their parishioners while maintaining a strict physical distancing of six feet.

• Nurseries and children’s liturgies should be discontinued through at least June 30, and people with small children should consider keeping them at home if possible.  

• The priests of the diocese have been encouraged to receive a COVID-19 test before May 18. 

The diocese will provide to each parish a Resource Kit with ample amounts of hand sanitizer, disinfectant, disposal gloves, spray bottles and microfiber towels for wiping down areas that people typically touch, signage, ropes or tape to block off pews, and other items.