Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we bask in the glory of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we also struggle with the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – the suffering of the sick and dying, unemployment, financial uncertainties, mental health issues, and other stresses.
These challenges are compounded by the inability to celebrate Mass together, physically, in church. It breaks my heart. Unfortunately, there will not be a magical time when the stars are aligned and we can quickly return to our normal celebration of the Eucharist.
As you know, last week Governor Kim Reynolds lifted the restrictions against certain public gatherings, including religious assemblies. The bishops of Iowa consulted and decided that, since the spread of the COVID-19 disease remains a real and present danger, it is prudent for now to continue the suspension of public Masses.
I would like to share with you some thoughts related to reopening our churches and the resumption of public Masses. The process of reopening will be reasonable, responsible and gradual. Unfortunately, we likely will have to maintain physical distancing for quite some time.
When the number of COVID-19 infections, deaths, hospitalizations and percentage of positive tests begin to trend down, we will reopen our churches for private prayer. And if the downward trend continues for 14 days, we will begin to celebrate public Masses again.
However, due to physical distancing requirements, the number of people who will be able to gather for Mass unfortunately will be significantly restricted. Pastors will need to determine how to identify who will be able to attend a particular Sunday Mass. Perhaps weekday Masses will have to take up the slack for now in some parishes.
We will have to follow careful protocols. Besides physical distancing in the pews, there will need to be appropriate spacing when people depart from Mass, as well as during the Communion procession. Since singing is equivalent to coughing, we won’t be able to have vocal music for a while. There will be no sign of peace, no Communion cup and no Communion on the tongue until it is safe to resume these practices. High use areas will need to be cleaned and disinfected after each Mass. Everyone will need to continue to practice good hygiene and to wear face coverings.
The longer people are assembled together in a church, the greater the risk of contracting the virus if it is present in that space. The purpose of these precautions and restrictions is to reduce the risk as much as possible.
Pastors will be encouraged to continue to livestream and record their Masses so that those who are vulnerable due to age and underlying health issues can participate at home. The suspension of the Sunday Mass obligation will remain in effect indefinitely.
So, parish life will continue, albeit in a modified manner. Due to physical distancing restrictions, when we begin celebrating public Masses again, First Communions, Confirmations and adult initiations will need to be celebrated individually or in small groups rather than as an entire class. Clergy will be ordained without the preferred attendance, and priests will retire and change assignments without the desired closure and welcome. Social distancing is the new norm, and we can’t put things off indefinitely.
Your desire for Communion – with Christ in the Eucharist and with each other in person – is sacred and holy. Hopefully, we can return relatively soon to the public celebration of the Mass and your longing will be fulfilled. Until then, let’s continue to stay close to the Lord and one another by means of personal prayer. Please be assured of my prayers for you.
Sincerely in Christ,