A word from Pope Francis ~ “Let us implore the grace to hunger for God, with an insatiable desire to receive what he has prepared for us.”
Who knew it would take a whole year? Who knew at the start of the COVID pandemic that it would not be until now that we would be entering into Phase 5 of the COVID-19 Protocols. It was exactly one year ago that we had received the initial protocols to allow for in-person prayer in our churches. It was just a year ago that we were gathering and training our Check-in volunteers, our Usher volunteers and our Sanitation volunteers for their respective jobs in our re-opening process. It was a year ago this Sunday that we celebrated the 11:00am and 1:00pm Spanish Mass with a limited congregation. Prior to that time our live streamed Masses were celebrated with a skeleton crew of 6 or 7 people. Now with a seating chart created for the church and a reservation process in place, we were able to begin in-person Mass attendance with 2 Masses – both of which were also live streamed to our homes.
Our skeleton crew met the following Monday to check for glitches. Following some adjustments, we added additional Masses for the following weekend on Saturday at 5:00pm and Sunday at 7:00, 9:00, 11:00am and 1:00pm. We scheduled them at 2-hour intervals to allow for sanitizing of the church between Masses. It was a beginning. Later, as we realized we did not need as much time in between Masses to sanitize the church, we reverted to our original Sunday schedule of 7:00, 8:30, 10:00, 11:30 (Spanish) and 1:00pm. We resumed the Saturday 6:30pm Spanish Mass around the beginning of Lent to relieve some of the pressure at the heavily attended Sunday Spanish Mass. All through this we followed the COVID protocols of face masks, hand sanitizing, social distancing and advance reservations so we could keep a tracking record if a COVID case was reported. Additional protocols were given us for receiving Communion as well. We followed these protocols faithfully so that we could provide as safe a climate for in-person worship as possible.
Now we have been given the green light to move to Phase 5 protocols. Full capacity of our church is now allowed and advance reservations are no longer required. Fully vaccinated individuals can participate at Mass without face masks and social distancing. Individuals who have not been vaccinated should continue to wear face masks. To provide for varying comfort levels, we will maintain Section J as a social distancing section for parishioners uneasy with sitting with unmasked individuals. Fully vaccinated priests (all three of us), deacons and Eucharistic ministers are no longer required to wear face masks and face shields when distributing Communion. We hope to restore altar servers with the Fall Ministry schedule. It is recommended that hand sanitizer be available, but not required for entering/exiting the church and/or at the reception of Holy Communion. Sanitation of the church is required only once per day, per the Centers for Disease Control. Since holy water fonts have been identified as a potential source of bacterial and viral infection, we will continue to refrain from using holy water for the time being.
Because of the potential transfer of saliva, we will continue to refrain from offering the chalice at Communion for the time being. Singing is now allowed! Paper worship aids and bulletins are now permitted. We resumed providing copies of our weekly bulletin this past Sunday. We will continue to have our collection baskets at the entrances and exits of the church as baskets passed from hand to hand are not permitted. The Presentation of Gifts will be restored in time. The sign of peace will continue to be made without physical contact. Offer a friendly wave or nod to your neighbor. And capacity at office and social gatherings can be at pre-pandemic, full capacity levels. We will be working to gradually resume parish meetings and gatherings at pre-pandemic levels. Recruiting volunteers and reestablishing procedures for opening and locking buildings will take some time. We are hoping to have PADS, the weekly AA meetings and ESL classes return to our parish.
We have been through an unimaginable past 15 months of pandemic. WE are here today due to God’s protection, the safety practices we have been able to put in place and your cooperation in following the safety practices. The development of a COVID vaccine has been an additional blessing as we have taken major steps towards herd immunity. If you have not been vaccinated yet – please – please seriously consider taking this important step. Most of our parish staff is fully vaccinated and few have reported any side effects following their shots. We have come a long way in the past 15 months. Help us take the next steps.
If you have been attending Sunday Mass through our live streamed Masses and feel comfortable, please consider joining with us in person. The live stream Mass may have filled in a void, but nothing beats being here in person. If you feel like your “soul is hungry,” it is! Nothing can replace the gift of the Eucharist in our lives. Our celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and
Blood of the Lord drove home that point last weekend. We are now fully open for in person prayer. Come and be nourished.
May God continue to bless you with all that you need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy