Minnesota’s dioceses preparing to resume limited public Masses May 18

| May 1, 2020 | 0 Comments

Pews are empty at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis during Easter Sunday Mass April 12 celebrated by Archbishop Hebda, who suspended all public Masses in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Leaders of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are developing a gradual, multi-phase approach to returning to public worship amid the coronavirus pandemic, Archbishop Bernard Hebda announced May 1.

Under a plan developed by Minnesota’s bishops, public Masses statewide are expected to resume, under heavy restrictions, May 18 — exactly two months after public Masses were suspended in the archdiocese.

Gov. Tim Walz announced April 30 that he is extending Minnesota’s stay-at-home order, which was set to expire May 4, to May 18.

“The bishops of Minnesota gathered yesterday after the governor’s news conference to carefully consider our own phased approach back into having public Masses,” Archbishop Hebda said in a letter to the faithful. “We recognize that when we return to public Masses, we will have to do so with carefully defined protocols in order to keep people safe and to prevent the spread of the virus. We know that if we work together we can do this safely.”

In the letter, Archbishop Hebda outlined three phases in the bishops’ plan to resume public Masses. He said that the dispensation of Catholics from their obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation “will continue until such a time that it is safe for all to return.”

Phase one, the current phase, includes churches open for daily prayer, and, in some cases, eucharistic adoration. Confessions are available in well-ventilated spaces that meet social distancing recommendations, and weddings and funerals can be celebrated with 10 or fewer people attending. Outdoor Masses without the distribution of Communion, and attendees remaining in cars, are allowed.

As to beginning phase two May 18, Church leaders “will be working with public officials in a collaborative way to meet that goal,” he said. The phase adds public Masses in churches limited to no more than one-third of the church’s seating capacity, or approximately every third pew, he said. Parishes are “always required” to observe social distancing directives for people not of the same household, he said.

“Parishes will need to develop ways to ensure that this capacity limit is strictly followed, such as by implementing online signups and having ushers in place to ensure crowds are limited and controlled,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Since the Sunday obligation has been dispensed, Catholics will be encouraged to attend other Masses during the week instead of on Sunday, in order to spread out the numbers. More Masses than usual will need to be offered in some cases to accommodate everyone who desires to attend Mass during this phase.”

He said archdiocesan leaders plan to provide well in advance of May 18 “detailed protocols” for these Masses and the distribution of Communion so that parishes can prepare. Phase two does not include “social gatherings and other small group meetings,” he said, but some other sacramental celebrations may occur, following the same rules as public Masses.

“If a liturgical celebration or event cannot maintain the capacity and other social distancing requirements, it may not take place during” phase two, he said.

It is unknown when Minnesota’s Catholics will be able to begin phase three, “which would provide more opportunity for us to have larger celebrations,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate and follow the guidance of civil authorities and public health experts.”

All phases require “strict guidelines for social distancing and sanitation,” Archbishop Hebda said.

According to the bishops’ plan, people over 65 are “strongly encouraged” not to attend Mass, and anyone who is sick or with a sick household member should not attend. Churches must be thoroughly sanitized before and after each service. Hymnals must be removed and holy water fonts must be empty. Signs must be posted to remind attendees about social distancing and sanitation requirements, as well as how to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Hand sanitizer must be available in church entries. People must follow local safety orders regarding face coverings, and be instructed not to touch others.

“These phases will allow for the ability to re-evaluate the process as necessary in order to ensure the health and safety of the community going forward,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Walz’s stay-at-home order began March 28 and was initially scheduled to last until April 13. He has since extended the order twice.

Archbishop Hebda suspended Catholics’ obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation beginning the weekend of March 14-15. On March 18, he announced the suspension of all public Masses in the archdiocese to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Archbishop Hebda ended the May 1 letter with an appeal to Mary under her title “Consoler of the Afflicted.”

“Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who have died from COVID-19, for those who mourn them, for those who are sick from this disease and for the people who are caring for them, often at great risk to themselves and their families,” he said. “Know of my prayers for them and for you and your loved ones.”

Minnesota health officials reported 594 new cases of COVID-19 in the state May 1, with 28 more deaths — the highest number of deaths reported on a single day in the state, tying with April 26. The state has a total of 5,730 cases of COVID-19 and 371 deaths, with nearly 80% of deaths among nursing home residents.

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