Most Catholic churches resume in-person masses amid 'unique situation'

Posted at 8:29 PM, May 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-24 20:31:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Most Catholic Churches in the Richmond Diocese held in-person Mass for the first time in around two months, although the services looked very different because of the continued threat of the novel coronavirus.

Diocese officials sent guidance to all priests outlining instructions on how to maintain safety and distance between parishioners. Those items included requiring face coverings for all worshipers over the age of three, limiting attendance to 50 percent of capacity, and putting in place procedures to ensure groups and individuals maintained a distance of six feet at all times.

“We have been in the diocese planning for some time to find ways to provide the sacraments and Masses but with limitations to keep the safety and well-being of all in consideration. We expect a gradual opening due to the size and difference of our parishes within each locality and given individual parish circumstances,” Bishop Barry C. Knestout said in a statement. “Our guidelines have been developed based on state and public health protocols and based on current circumstances so the protocols may change over time.”

Many churches that did hold in-person Mass used a lottery to system to determine who would attend, although some priests said they received fewer requests than even the allowed attendance figures. Parishes continued to live stream mass for those who did not feel comfortable attending in-person.

Catholic Churches within the city of Richmond continued to only live-stream Mass, after Mayor Levar Stoney asked to delay Phase One of reopening for two weeks.

“I miss my parishioners,” said Father John David Ramsey, pastor of St. Benedict parish in the Fan District. “I deeply desire for us to be able to gather as a community. I also deeply desire that nobody gets sick.”

St. Benedict continued to live-stream Sunday Mass, and Father Ramsey said they expect to beginning welcoming back some parishioners next Sunday, depending on guidance from city and state leaders.

“We always come back to St. Paul's language, the church is the body of Christ. That's true when we're spread out, and that's true when we're together,” he said.

St. Benedict used the week-long delay to learn from other parishes about what procedures worked and which did not. Their sanctuary has a capacity of 600 people, but after spacing considerations, Father Ramsey said they likely can only welcome about 100 parishioners when in-person mass begins once again.

“So I'm very sad and sorry for all the suffering that this is causing. At the same time, I think for everybody, whatever their situation, there's a sense of wanting to be with the people you love,” Father Ramsey said. He added that his parish would follow any and all safety guidelines put in place by health professionals studying the science behind the spread of coronavirus.

“It’s such a unique situation, the whole pandemic. I mean nobody has ever done this before.” Father Ramsey said. “What’s absolutely central to our lives as Catholics is being able to go to mass. That’s the goal for all of us, as priests and the bishop himself. And yet, we’re also very conscious that one person in a group of a couple of hundred people could cause very great illness.”

The Richmond Diocese wrote in a press release that Bishop Knestout continues to dispense Catholics from the obligation of attending Mass on Sundays and holy days.

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COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.