As I am sure nearly all of you know by now, beginning this Monday we have permission to begin resuming public Masses in the archdiocese. For the time being, this will apply to daily Masses only Sunday Masses will likely be suspended for at least a few more weeks. I know this is news that will be gladly received by many. I am also sure that there will be many questions. The purpose of my letter this week is to emphasize a few aspects of the guidelines and how we foresee them being implemented in our Masses at St. Joseph Church. I would encourage everyone who has not already done so to read the full guidelines from the archdiocese, which can be found at https://archdioceseofhartford.org/ First of all, and very importantly, Archbishop Blair has extended the dispensation from the requirement to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation through Sunday, September 6. So in the short term, even after the celebration of Sunday Masses is permitted, there is no obligation to attend. Furthermore, the archdiocese strongly urges anyone who is elderly, or who has underlying medical conditions, or who is anxious about the virus, or who is a caretaker for someone sick or homebound to remain at home. In addition, I cannot emphasize enough that anyone who is experiencing any symptoms of COVID or living under the same roof with someone showing symptoms should please stay at home. Even after Masses resume, we will continue to stream our Masses online as we have been doing for the last several months. There may be a few kinks as we work out the logistics of streaming Masses from St. Joseph Church instead of the priory, so we thank you in advance for your patience. The two most notable safety elements that are required as part of offering the public celebration of Mass again will be social distancing and the wearing of face masks. Everyone over age 5 is required to be wearing some sort of face mask from the time they enter the church until after they leave, with the exception of the moment they receive Communion. Masks of any sort, including homemade cloth ones, are fine for this purpose, as long as they cover the mouth and the nose. For those attending Mass, we ask you at all times to maintain a distance of at least 6 feet in all directions from anyone else (other than those with whom you live). This includes while entering the church, seated in the pews, coming up for Communion, and exiting at the end of Mass. Every other pew will be roped off to assist with front to back distancing, but parishioners need to be aware of their side to side distancing. Ideally, there would only be one individual (or family) in each “half” pew in the church. When it comes time to come up for Communion, please come up in a single file line, using the colored tape on the floor to mark distance. The archdiocese is strongly encouraging everyone to receive Communion in the hand for the time being. The procedure for this is as follows: one approaches the priest, puts out one’s hands so that he can drop the host in to the palm. The communicant should then walk to the side (at least six feet) to the place marked by tape on the floor, remove or pull down one’s mask, reverently consume the host, and then proceed back to the pew putting the mask back on. For those who, in good conscience, can only receive on the tongue, the guidelines say that you should wait until the very end and then come up once all others have been through the line. Ushers will be assisting with Communion, so please follow their instructions. For those seated in the side (angled) pews, you will NOT be walking through the center pew sections to get to line. Instead, remain in your seats until an usher comes, who will instruct you to exit down the side aisle towards the back of the church, and then walk around and up the center aisle to receive. I would also remind you that those attending Mass in person are free to not come up to receive at all, but to pray a spiritual communion privately from your pew. We also ask everyone to use hand sanitizer upon first entering the church. While we will have containers available, with potentially hundreds of people attending Mass every week our church supply could quickly disappear. We ask that those who have personal supplies of hand sanitizer to please bring and use your own, so that the church supplies can be reserved for those who have none at all. Currently the archdiocesan and state guidelines allow up to 100 people in the church for Mass. While I don’t expect that demand will exceed that early on, we will have an usher counting people as they enter… and if need be, anyone arriving after the church has reached capacity will need to be turned away. If there was ever a time to be extra sure to arrive early for Mass, it will be over the next few weeks!
Finally, I want to assure you we are doing all we can to keep you safe. All of the doors, pews, and other surfaces will be disinfected after every single Mass. The HVAC system has been upgraded with the highest quality air filters possible. The portion of the sacristy space that we use for confessions has been modified to increase distance between priest & penitent, with a barrier between them, and has been outfitted with an air purifier that includes both a HEPA filter and ultraviolet light sterilization that can purify over 300 cubic yards of air per hour. While Mass may not feel quite like “normal” with all of these guidelines in place, I know Fr. Joachim and Fr. Leo join me in saying we are looking forward to being able to celebrate Mass in person with our people once again. Whether you are one who is eager to be back in the pew, or one who prudently needs to stay at home a little longer still, please know you are in the thoughts and prayers of myself and the other padres every day.
God Bless, Fr. John Paul