The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has announced that churches will reopen for public Mass as the state enters its “yellow” phase next week. From 5 June, churches will also be able to perform weddings and baptisms, but with restrictions.
The move towards public Mass comes after President Trump declared churches “essential” on 22 May. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, said the President. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
Trump’s declaration triggered questions about how public Mass can be celebrated safely. Under new guidelines, churches may be occupied up to 50 per cent; every attendee must wear a protective mask and all areas of churches will be regularly sanitised in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. All churches have been instructed to make hand sanitiser readily available. Other measures include ensuring attendees are at least six feet apart and sitting two pews apart. Households are not required to practice social distancing measures in amongst themselves.
Parishioners are not obligated to attend Sunday Mass and are encouraged to watch it via livestream and those who are unwell are prohibited from attending.
The news was met with varying degrees of excitement and anxiety. A statement from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said that priests who did not wish to resume public Mass were not obliged to do so immediately.
Fr Kevin Gallagher of St Denis parish in Havertown, Philadelphia told news station NBC10 that “it is with great joy that we welcome this news. We have missed the celebration of public Masses.”
“In many ways, this is a ‘restoration,’ it’s not a reopening,” he said. “It is with great caution that we welcome [parishioners] back.” He added that “the Archdiocese has given us very good directives” but “each parish is going to have to address this differently.”
At the time of publication, the state of Pennsylvania has confirmed 66,983 cases of Covid-19, with 5,096 deaths. This is compared to 1.76 million cases across the United States, and 103,000 fatalities.