Small-scale public Masses to resume May 18, but MN bishops working to expand permitted attendance

| May 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

Parishes may resume public Masses May 18, but — for the time being — must limit attendance to 10 people, Archbishop Bernard Hebda said in a May 15 letter.

Minnesota’s Catholic bishops are working to determine when larger Masses may resume, he said, in light of Gov. Tim Walz’s most recent plan for the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 13, Walz announced that his stay-at-home order would expire as planned May 18, but that the next phase of the state’s pandemic response, Stay Safe Minnesota, would continue to restrict religious gatherings to 10 participants.

That’s far fewer than hoped by the state’s bishops, who in early May encouraged parishes to begin preparing to resume public Masses. Under Archbishop Hebda’s three-phase plan for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — announced May 1 and released in full May 9 — parishes could enter “Phase 2” and begin offering Masses May 18 if they followed social distancing guidelines and limited Mass attendance to one-third church capacity. Parishes were also expected to sanitize churches before and after each Mass, suspend with the sign of peace, and offer Communion to communicants following the Masses with groups larger than 10.

In his May 15 letter, Archbishop Hebda said he and the bishops submitted their plan to Walz for feedback May 8, and leaders from four Lutheran denominations joined that letter. Other denominations also submitted separate plans to the governor May 8, he said. But, Archbishop Hebda said, “To our disappointment, the governor and his administration have not yet engaged in dialogue with us on our proposal,” leaving the date that parishes may resume Mass with more than 10 people not of the same household “uncertain.”

Walz has called for meetings with faith leaders May 18 and 19 for feedback on new public worship guidelines. Following those meetings, “The bishops of Minnesota will together decide on a path forward and hope to communicate that to you by the middle of next week,” Archbishop Hebda said.

“In the meantime, we will creatively work within the ten-person limit to offer as many people as possible the opportunity to come to Mass,” he said. “If a parish is prepared to fully implement the stringent safety and sanitization protocols published May 9, it may begin public Mass on Monday, May 18, respecting the ten-person limit. We expect that some parishes will not be ready to begin public Masses because they are not yet comfortable with, or able to implement fully the protocols. Parishes should only return to a limited public celebration of the Mass when they are ready.”

Archbishop Hebda reiterated his concerns about the governor’s plan in a video, also released on social media May 15. “I found the explicit prohibition puzzling, especially considering how engaged the Catholic bishops of Minnesota have been with the governor and his administration to safely return to a limited public celebration of the Mass,” he said.

He said that he is confident many parishes are ready to welcome Catholics to Mass safely.

The governor’s stay-at-home order has been in effect since March 28. The new Stay Safe Minnesota plan loosens restrictions around some businesses, including retail stores, malls and other main street businesses, which may reopen if they have a safety plan and allow no more than 50% store occupancy.

“We understand that these are difficult decisions for our civic leaders and that they have many factors to consider in the reopening of life in Minnesota,” Archbishop Hebda said. “The bishops of Minnesota likewise have many factors to consider as we determine when to allow public worship with more than 10 people. As faithful citizens, our decisions will be guided by three principles: 1) love of neighbor and concern for the common good, including the health and well-being of our neighbors; 2) respect for public authorities and their directives and guidance; and 3) the rights of the faithful to the sacraments and the duty of worship we owe to God. The faithful can expect that we will weigh these considerations carefully as part of our common responsibility to the state, and that we will zealously protect our liberties to assemble and worship freely.”

Archbishop Hebda has suspended public Masses in the archdiocese since March 18. Small weddings and funerals have been permitted in compliance with the governor’s restrictions during the stay-at-home order.

The archbishop’s most recent guidelines asked people over 65 years old and people with underlying health conditions not to attend Mass as it becomes publicly available again. He has suspended for all the obligation to attend Mass and holy days of obligation, and said the suspension will continue until it is possible for all Catholics to return to Mass safely.

Around the archdiocese — and world — many Catholics unable to attend Mass in person have been experiencing Mass through daily and Sunday livestreamed liturgies.

Archbishop Hebda closed the May 15 letter requesting prayers for the end of the pandemic and for civic leaders, as well as for people who are sick or have died because of COVID-19, and the people caring for them.

“We know that many of you share our frustration and disappointment about the executive order’s treatment of religious gatherings. We ask that you continue to pray for an end to the pandemic and for our civic leaders, and that you presume the good will of those charged with these important and difficult decisions,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Let us ask the Lord to help us cultivate patience, serenity, and peace of soul during our continued Eucharistic fast — believing that God will bring many graces from our sacrifices.”

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