A parish priest in Bangor, Maine, said he saw many Massgoers “in tears” as they received Holy Communion for the first time in nearly three months at a publicly celebrated Mass on Trinity Sunday at St Paul the Apostle Church.
Fr Augustine Nellary, parochial vicar of the parish, said he was “extremely excited to have some of our parishioners back in the church and celebrate the Eucharist with them. I saw many of them in tears as they received the Eucharist.”
On the other side of the country, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles celebrated his first Mass with faithful present at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Attendance was limited to 100 people, on a first-come, first-served basis, following the guidelines and regulations set by the Los Angeles County Health Department and the archdiocese.
In his homily, Archbishop Gomez said: “Today marks a beautiful new beginning for the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as many of our churches are opening to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in many weeks.”
On May 26, Archbishop Gomez told priests and parish staff churches in the archdiocese could begin to open to the public the first week of June if they implemented certain safety guidelines.
In recent weeks, US dioceses have begun issuing plans for the gradual reopening of churches over several phases with the safety of congregants, priests, deacons and other parish staff foremost in the minds of Catholic officials — and with safety protocols in place, including required mask-wearing and social distancing inside church, with seating in designated pews.
The gradual opening of churches or planned openings — with limits on congregation size — have for the most part come as cities and states announce a gradual reopening of a variety of what they deem as “nonessential” public and private entities, including churches, as the threat of COVID-19 has subsided — but not gone away entirely
Dioceses are still encouraging online giving to parishes, and Masses continue to be livestreamed.
In the Diocese of Portland, Maine, the effort to reopen churches, even in a limited fashion, prompted creativity among clergy and parish staff. No more than 50 people could be in attendance, masks were mandatory, and temporary pew seating arrangements ensured social-distancing guidelines were followed. In addition, reservations were required to make sure capacity wasn’t exceeded.
But Catholics felt the regulations and protocols were small prices to pay for the opportunity to be together again.
“People were so very happy to be back at Mass. I told them how wonderful it was to have more people to pray with,” said Father John Skehan, pastor of St Michael Parish in Augusta. “I told them I felt as though I was praying with a congregation of bank robbers since they were all masked!”
“We are grateful to God that we are able once again to celebrate and receive Eucharist together,” Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland told Massgoers at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
“How nice to see you this morning! Over these last three months, I have known that you are there, but it is nice to see some of you actually here with us this morning,” he added.
The bishop also described the work being completed at Maine churches after each Mass to keep those attending safe, including the sanitization of seats and pews, knobs, door handles, bathrooms, altars, musical equipment and other touched surfaces.
Julie Ann Smyth, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Biddeford, was one of those brought to tears by being able to attend Mass in church once again.
“As soon as the opening song started playing, I teared up. It was overwhelming to think about the past two months,” she said. “To return to the pew and to be with others who share your love of your faith, it was just so special.”