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Inland Empire Catholic churches to reopen for public Mass this weekend

Catholic parishes in the Diocese of San Bernardino are preparing to reopen their sanctuaries for public, in-person Masses starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 13, three months after they were shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Bishop Gerald Barnes has issued a 22-page list of directives for Masses, weddings, funerals, confessions and other sacraments that churches must follow to reopen and remain open.

This exhaustive list, which adheres to state-issued guidelines for reopening churches, includes, among other things, limiting the number of people to 25% of room capacity or 100 people, whichever is lower; maintaining a 6-foot physical distance; allowing enough time between services to sanitize the sanctuary; closing all drinking water fountains, baptismal fonts and decorative water features; and wearing face masks.

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How Mass will be different

For Catholics who have attended Mass all their lives, the liturgy is likely to look and feel different as well. Priests won’t use incense. Only one person will be allowed to sing, while maintaining a 10-foot distance from others. Parishioners won’t recite prayers or parts of the liturgy. They will receive bread as part of the Communion, but no wine.

The directives also clearly state that parishioners and clergy should avoid all physical contact during Mass, such as shaking hands, hugging, kissing or “blessings that touch any part of the body.”

Larger churches in the diocese especially are likely to appear empty, with only 100 people allowed inside at a time. But that’s a small compromise to make to be able to gather and pray together again, said Debbie Aguilera, business administrator at St. Catherine of Siena in Rialto, which typically accommodates 1,200. She and other staff members at the church have been preparing this week to resume services, including distancing the pews and thoroughly sanitizing the sanctuary.

They’ll have two services on Saturday and five on Sunday. But people can only get in on a first-come, first-served basis, Aguilera said.

“It sounds horrible to say that, but that’s the way it has to be,” she said. “We have to follow the rules.”

Aguilera said different parts of the church will also not be accessible to the public, such as the family area, the wings at the side of the church and the Our Lady of Guadalupe room. Floors will be marked to denote 6-foot distancing.

Catholics ‘clamoring’ for reopening

“It’s a different way of living, of doing church,” she said. “But I think people will be OK with it because they are anxious to return to church. For Catholics, to celebrate Mass together, as a community, is very important.”

Catholics in the diocese have been “clamoring to reopen the church,” especially so they can receive communion, said diocesan spokesman John Andrews.

“There haven’t been too many questions from the public about how it’s going to work,” he said. “We did hear from some concerned people about whether they are obligated to come back to church. The bishop has already extended dispensation for the weekly obligation to attend Mass for those who don’t have immunity, have health conditions or are elderly, or even because they may be anxious to come back.”

Quiet Mass the new normal

Andrews said church will feel different because Mass is going to be quiet, without the choir, singing or recitation of the liturgy.

For priests in the diocese, this has been a period of adjustment, said the the Rev. Erik Esparza, pastor of The Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Community in Redlands.

“We are not used to celebrating Mass without people present,” he said, referring to Webcasting Mass, which will continue even after churches reopen. “It’s very different preaching to a camera. But we got beautiful notes and letters via mail and email from those watching at home. So I had to imagine that I was talking to all those people when I talked to the camera.”

His church is by no means going back to normal. It will limit services to four instead of nine. Members will also be able to make free reservations over the phone or online. That will help prevent people from lining up outside the church, Esparza said.

“We’ll have to start slow and see how many people come back,” he said. “Our hope is to make it as welcoming an environment as possible.”

Esparza said, at least for the first weekend, he plans to entrust the Masses to other priests so he can stand outside and welcome returning parishioners.

“We’ll get used to the procedures as we do it more and more,” he said. “Anything new can be worrisome, but we need to patient.”


Source: Orange County Register

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