Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Introduction: I have missed you! Please know you have been in my thoughts and prayers every day during this very challenging time. Our long-awaited return to the public celebration of the Mass begins the weekend of May 30-31. I am grateful that we can begin to come together again after such a long time of quarantine. My hope is that you will find our Mass during a time of pandemic will be a reverent and powerful encounter with the Risen Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. However, the Mass in this time of COVID-19 will feel very different and it will not be “going back to Mass” as we knew it. This letter will be long and will contain a lot of important information. Please read this closely.
Please be patient and flexible: Celebrating Public Mass during a time of pandemic is a daunting task. The following guidelines are based on Bishop Brennan’s guidelines (A link to the Bishop’s letter can be found here As we experience our return to the public celebration of the Mass, I am sure we will have to adjust things as we go.
Simply because we are opening does not mean it is safe to return to Mass: We have been dispensed from our Sunday obligation through Labor Day of this year. We are in a pandemic caused by a novel virus that is highly contagious, can be transmitted by people who are asymptomatic, and for which there is no effective treatment or vaccine. Our public celebration of the Mass does not mean it is safe to come to Mass. Those who are “high risk” and who are “susceptible to COVID” are discouraged from attending Mass. Those “susceptible to COVID,” include those over the age of 70 or those who have serious health conditions. Those who exhibit symptoms related to COVID are asked to not come to Mass; symptoms include a cough of any kind or a fever. Though we wish that all could gather with us for the Eucharist, we cannot guarantee complete safety at this time. Please be prudent whether or not it makes sense for you and your family to attend. With all of the precautions we are going to take, we cannot guarantee that this is a safe place for you to be. I need you to practice personal responsibility.
Things will feel different at Mass: We are taking as many precautions as we can while continuing to celebrate the Mass according to our liturgical tradition. The following directions may get overwhelming. We are planning on having lots of greeters and ushers at every Mass, so, please read these directions closely but don’t get overwhelmed as the ushers will be there to assist you. The Holy Water fonts will be empty. (Holy Water will be available in the Narthex for those who wish to fill your own holy water bottles.) We will be asking everyone to follow the direction of the ushers for seating. Seating will be every other pew and staggered on each side. The Communion line will be single file in the middle of the aisle, and there will be no seating for six feet on the right and left of the Communion line. (Households will come up together in the Communion line, maintaining six-foot distancing from other households.) The outside seats of some of the pews will also be blocked off. There will be roughly a maximum of 250 people per Mass (the total number of people will depend on the size of the households that attend). There will be no hymnals in the pews and there will be no bulletins distributed at Mass. Households (1 or more people who live in the same house) will sit together and there will be one or two households per pew (keeping six feet apart within the pew) depending on the size of the households. Singing will be limited. The congregation will be wearing masks. There will be no collection, no bringing up the gifts, no sign of peace, and no distribution of the chalice. Baskets will be available to place envelopes in for those not giving electronically. The priest and Extraordinary Ministers will be wearing a mask when distributing Holy Communion. The bathrooms will be for emergency use only.
A New Sunday (and Saturday evening) Mass Schedule: Because of the need to clean the church in-between Masses, we must have a minimum of two hours between Mass times. The new Mass times will be: Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., Sunday at 8:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., 12:00 noon and 5:00 p.m. Starting on May 30, Confessions will be on Saturdays from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Daily Mass will be at 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
What we are asking you to do:
1. Wear a mask: Those attending Mass are asked to wear a cloth face covering, unless they are under the age of two. We will not have face masks available at the church.
2. Practice strict hand hygiene: Wash and/or sanitize your hands before and after Mass. Please bring your own hand sanitizer. Please limit what you touch with your hands.
3. Give up your favorite seat: Seating will occur front to back and will be directed by our ushers to minimize contact with others. Please follow their directions for entering, seating, and leaving the church.
4. Keep six feet apart: Stay together as a family and maintain six feet separation from other individuals and families.
5. Refrain from using the bathroom: The bathrooms will be available for emergency use only. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
6. Remain in the section where you enter: Our church has three main seating sections. Plan on entering, remaining in, and exiting the same section of the church.
7. Don’t come to Mass if you are high risk, have any symptoms related to COVID-19, or have been exposed to COVID-19 within the last 2 weeks. Don’t come to Mass if the CDC guidelines suggest you should be staying at home.
8. Remain silent before and after Mass both in the Church and in the Klinger Center: We will not be able to maintain social distancing if people visit in the church. The “gathering space” is now called “the narthex”. When entering the narthex, please consider it a part of the church and continue moving into or out of the church. We will be blocking off the parking in front of the church to create a space for “distanced socializing”. When outside the church, please remain six feet from anyone not in your household and talk as long as you want! The circle in front of the church can also extend into the playground area of the school.
9. Please give electronically: While we will be offering collection baskets at Mass, we highly encourage our parishioners to give electronically. This is the safest way for everyone. If you are able and have not done so, please consider utilizing WeShare for electronic offertory donating. Simply text stpaulohio to 555888 to arrange a weekly, monthly or one-time donation or click here You can also mail your offertory envelope or check to St. Paul Catholic Parish, 313 N. State Street, Westerville Ohio 43082-8825. However please do not mail cash.
10. Arrive between 15-30 Minutes Prior to Mass: We will begin cleaning the church immediately after Mass to prepare for the next Mass. And, we will be seating in each section as we finish cleaning. Arriving sometime between 15 and 30 minutes prior to Mass will allow for the smoothest entry.
11. Be prepared to walk around the church: If a given section fills up, we will be closing access to the outside doors and will be asking parishioners to walk around the church to get into a section. All the more reason to come around the 30 minute mark prior to Mass.
The new pattern for Communion: People will come out for Communion one pew at a time, alternating between the pews on each side of the section, with the households in the pews maintaining six-foot distancing in the pews and in the Communion Line. There will be one single file Communion line in the middle of the aisle in each of the three transepts. Reception of Holy Communion on the hand is highly encouraged during this time of pandemic.
What if there is no room in the church for me and my family? We have no way of controlling how many people come to a given Mass. Once each section is filled, the church will be closed to any additional people. The overflow space will be the Klinger Center where we hope to be able to provide livestreaming of the Mass. And, people will be welcome to remain in their cars and follow the Mass on their phones. Holy Communion will be distributed in the Klinger Center after Mass for those in the overflow section or for those who were following the Mass in their cars. I anticipate that the 10:00 a.m. Sunday Mass will have the most pressure in terms of numbers.
Daily Mass: We will be having Daily Mass twice a day at 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 8:30 a.m. on Saturdays, starting the week after May 30-31. The requirement for households to maintain six-foot distancing will dramatically cut down the number of seats in the church. Hopefully our Daily Mass celebrations opportunities will allow every family the chance to attend at least one Mass per week.
Helpers needed! We are in need of 20-25 people at every Mass to serve as greeters, ushers, and cleaners at the end of Mass. These roles will be essential for us to be able to gather in a safe and orderly way. If you are 18 or over, are not in a risk group, and are able to serve at a Mass each week, please email your name to Annette Ramos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Come Holy Spirit! Our return date to public Mass will be the great feast of Pentecost. It is the Holy Spirit who breathes life into our parish and who gives us the grace to be “Inspired by St. Paul, Centered on Christ, and Called to Holiness”. While we have been physically separated, I believe the Holy Spirit has worked powerfully in our midst to make become even more spiritually united. I have been overwhelmed by your continued participation in our livestreamed prayer, your continued financial giving to the parish, and your amazing concern for the poor in our various food and essential drives. The Holy Spirit is truly working in our parish community!
In the Risen Christ,