Laura Keener, Editor.
After 62 days (since March 20), public celebration of the Mass resumed, May 20, in the Diocese of Covington. It was a day long anticipated by Bishop Roger Foys, the priests of the diocese and the lay faithful.
“I’ve heard from the priests that there is anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent of their normal congregations,” said Bishop Foys, May 27, in an interview about the first weekday and weekend Masses. “The people who are there are very happy that the Mass is available. There are still some people who are nervous and I certainly understand that, especially people who are at high risk.”
For anyone who has underlying health conditions or falls into the high risk categories of developing complications from the coronavirus or anyone who feels nervous about venturing out in public, Bishop Foys has extended the dispensation from the Sunday obligation of attending Mass. Many parishes, including the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, are still live streaming Mass so that those at home can join spiritually with their parish.
Bishop Foys did caution, as did Pope Francis, that people not get the misconception that the live stream somehow replaces the in-person, public celebration of the Mass, especially in the long term.
“The Mass is more than just a church service. We have the Eucharist and the Eucharist is what sustains us,” said Bishop Foys. “Part of the Eucharist is coming together as a community — our faith calls us to that. Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper with his apostles; he didn’t just do it on his own somewhere. The whole notion of a parish and parish life is bringing people together because, certainly, the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ but the gathered community is also the body of Christ. It’s very important for us to come together and worship together — the Eucharist is what binds us together.”
Before public Masses resumed, a list of protocols developed by Bishop Foys and a task force of about ten Curia members was shared and discussed with diocesan consultors, deans and priests. After the discussions, adjustments to the protocols were made. On May 12, Bishop Foys promulgated the protocols, making them particular law for the Diocese of Covington. The complete list protocols is available on the diocesan website, www.covdio.org. As pastors opened the church doors, parishioners were asked to assist their priests in implementing the protocols.
Some highlights of the protocols are:
— Those that are sick should refrain from attending for 14 days from when symptoms began.
— Masses will be celebrated with a 33 percent capacity reduction.
— Social distancing is required; pews are marked so that parishioners maintain six-feet spacing from each other.
— Face coverings are encouraged for all and required for ushers and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion.
— Distribution of Holy Communion will be under one species, the Body of Christ.
— Churches will be cleaned and sanitized after every Mass.
“The people have been very cooperative, especially in terms of sanitizing the pews after Mass and not gathering in groups after Mass. I haven’t heard any glaring complaints,” said Bishop Foys. “I wish more people would wear masks at Mass; we advise that but do not mandate that.”
When asked what celebrating Mass under the new protocols looks like from the celebrant’s point of view Bishop Foys said, “It’s strange to see very small crowds spread out over the entire church.” But, he said, it looks to him like the social distancing protocols should offer parishioners a safe place to worship.
Bishop Foys and the priests are hopeful that in the coming days, as more is learned on how effective the protocols are working, more of the lay faithful will physically make their way back to Mass.
“I don’t fault people (for being cautious). I think it is going to take awhile,” Bishop Foys said. “For eight weeks we have been cautioned to be careful and we know the virus is very contagious, so it will take awhile for us to get used to that. There is a hesitancy, which we can appreciate and we have to support.”
Bishop Foys said that after one more week of experience in celebrating both weekday and weekend Masses, he, his staff and the priests will review the protocols in light of that experience.
“If we need to change any of the protocols, we will do that,” he said.