May 22, 2020
Dear Parishioners and Friends:
Easter greetings to you and your households!
This week’s communication is an edited copy of the video we made in preparation for our reopening this weekend. I hope it will be helpful to all parishioners in discerning their readiness for coming back to Church for the public celebration at this time OR their preference to wait until a later date.
Without a doubt, we are all at a saturating point regarding “best practices” in most every facet of our lives since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. By now, most have taken an opportunity to familiarize themselves with our diocesan guidelines and directives communicated in writing and in video form, steering the reopening process around the State of West Virginia. I am grateful for the pastoral care our Bishop has demonstrated for all of us throughout the past two months. My goal in making the video and in constructing this edited text is to “customize” the diocesan plan to fit us here at St. Francis de Sales Parish. Most importantly, I would like to convey a heartfelt welcome for all parishioners who are ready to begin again in gathering in our Church for sacred purpose. I shared in my last communication that the Church always provides! For those who are not yet ready to start their engines in returning to daily activities at this time, the Bishop has been emphatic in reminding us we should not feel pressured especially if there is sickness, uneasiness, or serious concern. In particular, those who are advanced in years may not yet feel secure to transition out of a Stay at Home mode of living. On the other hand, the Church demonstrates care for those who are ready to return at this juncture.
It is a personal decision for every adult and I want to encourage all to carefully weigh the following information in better determining your own preparedness. A personal decision equals personal responsibility. I believe I have been clear in stating things will be different for the time being, but I don’t want a return to Church to be an intimidating experience for anyone who crosses our threshold! There’s enough fear and intimidation out “there” without internalizing it “here” on blessed ground. So we are doing our very best in utilizing recommended procedures to provide a safe, healthy and sanitary environment that should not promote the spread of Coronavirus contagion. The guidelines indicate to all of us ways to be careful, mindful of good hygiene and personal responsibility for our own good and, just as importantly, for the good of others gathering with us and then even the larger community off our property. The same attentive experience is currently being practiced and examined at the store, restaurants, workplaces, and some leisure venues that dictate close contact with others. I want you to know these are temporary directives for us at Church. A good point to remember: the Church is RESPONDING to the guidelines and directives embraced by society at this time. We are not making the rules. Ours is not a promotional endorsement of the right or left, it’s simply a presentation of Gospel-minded principles to be prudently considered in the face of unprecedented frustration, anxiety and so much confusion. The Church wants to provide for all her members! As your pastor, I think it may be more constructive if we limit our focus to the personal decision we should now make. Let’s not spend time and energy on pondering what others are doing; that’s their task. Instead of challenging, shaming, or degrading others, let’s pray for them and their decisions to be made. This is what “Love for others” is all about! We are not to be selfish or judgmental when it comes to the mind and hearts of others. Their decisions, like our decisions, should be made freely and responsibly.
Therefore, for those who are making a personal and responsible decision to return to active and full participation in the Eucharist at this time, I want to draw your attention to the following:
- Upon arrival and until further notice, facial coverings or masks are to be worn for the duration of Church visits, with the exception of the act of receiving Holy Communion at Mass.
- Pay close attention to the big screens for pertinent information while passing through the Gathering Space. All “touchable” objects have been removed, such as information sheets, children’s books in the living room area and complimentary items for the taking.
- You will note, too, the absence of the kneelers located at the Holy Family and Blessed Mother Shrines. Candles may still be lit and I would ask that the offering envelopes be carried to the worship space and then dropped in the offering baskets located at the various entries. You may drop in your weekly envelope or loose offering before going to your seat or after Mass when exiting.
- Our Hospitality Ministers will be happy to provide assistance with seating. You are kindly asked not to congregate before or after Mass. Seating is open with dedicated safe distancing pews left vacant. The longer pews would be ideal for larger household units because of the required six feet between your household membership and another parishioner’s.
- Worship aids will be available at the entries of the worship space but you are welcome to download your own from our parish website: https://stfrancisdesalesparish.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Worship-Aid-ONLINE-May-23-24.pdf) with your cell phones. At the end of Mass, you are kindly asked to carry your paper worship aid out of the Church and take it home or deposit in the red bins.
- Restroom breaks are permitted, of course. Parents, please accompany your children and see to it the faucets are wiped off as our restrooms are used by many people during the course of a single Mass time.
- The entire area of the Church and restrooms will be sanitized between all Masses. Restroom doors are propped open and lights left on for your convenience.
- During the Mass, you will notice there is no shared usage of microphones between the priest, reader, and cantor. There will be no procession with the Gospel Book. There is no offertory procession, no basket passing, no Altar servers and no sign of peace.
- The distribution of Communion should be orderly and facilitated by the Hospitality Ministers. At least temporarily, the bishop asks that only a priest or deacon distribute Holy Communion. I plan to demonstrate before all Masses the act of moving to a single aisle and of receiving Communion. Safety measures of six feet distancing are indicated by floor markings. A reminder, the one time the mask should be removed is your personal reception of Holy Communion and then it should be put back in place after receiving the sacred host and before you return to your pew.
- Communion in the hand or the tongue is your choice, but care should always be given by the one distributing and receiving so as not to touch flesh. No gloves should be worn for the reception of Holy Communion. The weight of medical opinion is for the “in the hand” method at this time of COVID-19 concern. However, if one so chooses to receive on the tongue, a conscious act with mouth wide open is a must. Following the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue, the priest will have to sanitize his hands before the next person approaches the table. (The table assures distance and is a sanitizing /ritual ablution station).
- After the general reception of Holy Communion takes place, I will make my way around the Church to those who cannot come forward, just like usual.
- Holy Communion may be brought to your own homes for the elderly or sick unable to come to Church at this time. However, general “Communion calls” to the homebound or hospitalized are not yet permitted and still reserved for only “in danger of death” circumstances. So, this means Communion may be transported only to those with whom you are already commingling, not neighbors, friends, kissing cousins or other relatives with whom you have not regularly and physically interacted in the time of self-isolation. Holy Communion must be transported in a pyx and then received. Holy Communion isn’t a vitamin and should not be self-taken. The pyx you present should be opened and placed on the table as you approach to receive Communion yourself. Indicate how many hosts are requested and then close the pyx after the sacred host is placed in the pyx, and THEN prepare to receive Holy Communion yourself, pick up the pyx from the table and return to your place. Again, Holy Communion should be taken immediately following Mass to the homebound in your family/household. It should not be left in your car, pocket, or purse until “the next convenient time” you see the person. Again, Communion may be taken only to those in your home, with whom you are already commingling.
- Dismissal by sections of pews will be orderly and performed with the assistance of Hospitality Ministers.
- A reminder the Sunday 8 am “senior friendly” Mass will be in the barn (Seton Hall) with the upper level accessible, preferably for younger or able-bodied parishioners who can easily climb the steps.
- The normal 4 pm-4:45 pm Saturday Confession time is now restored but the location is temporarily moved to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to secure safe distancing. The wait line is clearly marked with safe distancing lines on the floor.
- All daily Masses will take place in the main Church until further notice to allow for safe distancing of all participants. A particular section of pews will be designated each day for the daily Mass. (The reason for the specific sections is to accommodate sanitizing needs that will occur after each Mass.) Entrance and exit for daily Mass will the choir side “direct entrance” into the Church. I would suggest daily Mass participants park on the side lot to allow easy entry/departure.
Patience, respect for others, and all our combined efforts are essential and most appreciated. I want to thank all who have worked so hard to bring about this time of reopening. Great lengths have been demonstrated by your pastor, the staff, and many others in lessening the perceived “intimidation” with such rules and regulations that are in place for our benefit and safety. All parishioners and guests are kindly asked to collaborate with the guidelines and directives in these strange times and all persons will be treated with great respect and dignity. Yes, it will be “clunky” for all of us but the gift of the Eucharist and our full and active participation at the Altar far outweigh the imposed awkwardness and apprehension we may be initially sensing, even amid perceived rigidity regarding guidelines asked of us. Again, I welcome you back and I share your joy in going up to the House of the Lord, once again, with praise and rejoicing in your hearts!
May God bless us all, keep us safe and mindful of our responsibility and care in doing all that we can to keep others safe and healthy while worshipping together on this holy hill.
Yours in Christ,