Churches reopen for private prayer; public Masses resume on June 6, with limits

Two people take a few moments for private prayer in the chapel of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Peoria Heights on May 29. The Diocese of Peoria entered Phase IA of the plan to reopen churches, which allows for private prayer and adoration for 10 or fewer people, on Friday, and then announced that public Masses could resume on June 6. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

Just as parishes were opening their doors to people for private prayer and adoration on May 29, it was announced that Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, had given permission for public Masses to resume on Saturday, June 6. The Masses that weekend celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

Each church must be certified by the Diocese of Peoria before that can happen, according to Msgr. Jason Gray, liaison to the Illinois bishops’ committee for the reopening of churches. He added that the number of people who may attend Mass will be limited to 25 percent of the church’s capacity, which is in keeping with guidance from the State of Illinois.

Msgr. Jason Gray

“When we reopen for public Mass, every effort must be made to protect our parishioners’ health,” Msgr. Gray said in a letter sent to the priests on May 29. “Although we have enhanced our health and safety measures, the faithful should be aware that there is still some risk of infection.”

He noted that the faithful continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass, and said those who are “at risk” may choose not to return immediately.

“Many pastors have planned for outdoor Masses, drive-in Masses, or streamed Masses for Pentecost Sunday, all of which are laudable,” Msgr. Gray wrote.

“POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT”

On May 13, Bishop Jenky announced that the Catholic bishops of Illinois had developed a plan for reopening churches in three phases.

The first phase, which allowed for parishes to resume baptisms, weddings, and funerals with 10 or fewer people in attendance, as well as the sacrament of reconciliation, was granted almost immediately. Distribution of Communion in outdoor settings was also permitted.

Permission for outdoor Masses was given on May 15.

The Diocese of Peoria entered Phase IA, which allowed the churches to reopen for private prayer and adoration, on May 29.

Resuming public Masses is Phase II of the bishops’ plan.

“As we go forward, we want to do so with caution. We want to protect people’s safety. We want to be prudent. . . . A little patience for right now might be the best advice.” — Msgr. Jason Gray

Msgr. Gray cited Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s May 28 announcement that restrictions on church services had been replaced with guidance for safe practices for the “positive development” that will see public Masses celebrated again. Parishes have already received a checklist to ensure all necessary safeguards are in place.

In the meantime, churches are expected to have a system for regular cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, and continue to recruit and train volunteers.

A LITTLE PATIENCE

Msgr. Gray, who is the pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Peoria Heights, said he does not foresee a need for parishes to employ a complicated reservation system for Phase IA unless they expect more than 10 people for private prayer. Some parishes have been testing a reservation system so they don’t exceed 25 percent of the church’s capacity when public Masses resume, however.

“I think people have been very well educated — not just in the parishes, but in our entire society — about the precautions they should take. Everyone seems to be much more sensitive to washing their hands and not shaking hands and doing all the proper things that would be expected,” Msgr. Gray told The Catholic Post.

Parishes will continue to learn and adapt as time goes on, he said.

“As we go forward, we want to do so with caution. We want to protect people’s safety. We want to be prudent,” Msgr. Gray explained. “A little patience for right now might be the best advice.”

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