Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It is with a great deal of joy that I write to you today. In writing this letter to you, I ask that you read the entire letter before making any kind of decisions or conclusions. Overall, I believe you are going to rejoice in what I have to share with you today.
Last week I wrote to you that I had submitted a written protocol to our Bishop and his representative, Msgr. Albert Schifano, requesting the limited and partial re-opening of St. Frances Cabrini Parish. I have received Msgr. Schifano’s reply in which he writes, “St. Frances Cabrini Parish’s Phase 1 plan is certified for opening at any time.” That “any time” starts this weekend, October 3-4! Phase 1 involves a number of restrictions which we must observe in order to try to insure that our worship space can once again be safely used for public worship. My purpose in writing to you today is to outline what those restrictions are as we look forward to once again being able to celebrate together. The majority of what I am sharing with you is taken directly from the protocol which I mentioned above.
While I’m very aware that we are all eager to return to public worship, there is an inherent risk with any public event (including religious services), and no one can be guaranteed absolute safety. We must all acknowledge that inherent risk. While we are working to reduce the risk, there are no risk-free situations. Your presence at any public event constitutes your understanding and acceptance of that essential risk.
It is the expectation that parishioners exercise good judgment and common sense. Any person(s) should stay home if they are feeling ill in any way, are sick or have symptoms of illness. All Mass attendees are encouraged to use hand sanitizer when they leave the church and to wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds when they return home.
Liturgical celebration schedule –
Knowing that a number of people will choose not to attend a publicly celebrated Mass, we will continue to offer the drive-through reception of Holy Communion every Saturday at 5:00 p.m. We will continue to follow the same procedure that we’ve been observing for the drive-through. This particular service is not only for those who choose not to attend Mass in person, but is also for those who are restricted from attending Mass particularly due to health issues (i.e. respiratory problems, etc.).
- Sunday, 8:30 a.m. This will be our Family Mass for those families with children and for people under the age of 65.
- Sunday, 10:30 a.m. St. Frances Cabrini has been given permission to designate one weekend Mass for only those persons over the age of 65 and who are in good health.
- There will be no weekday Mass at St. Frances Cabrini until further notice.
Limitation on the numbers who can attend each Mass – due to the size of our church no more than 70 persons may attend any one Mass. Parishioners are expected to respect this limitation, and if they arrive to find that capacity has been reached, they must then plan to return for a later scheduled Mass. You will see cordoned off rows and chairs as well as other measures to help insure social distancing. Please do not seat yourself. Our ushers will direct you to your seat as they must mark the seats that have been used so that they can be sanitized after the Mass. Special note: the use of kneelers is suspended until further notice.
Church access – we will use ONLY the two west-side doors of the church for entry and exit points for Mass. While it is required that all the doors of the church be opened for the purpose of cross-ventilation, ONLY the west-side doors will be used to enter and exit the church. Doors on the east side of the church will be marked with yellow caution tape to warn against the use of those doors.
Enhanced ventilation – the HVAC system will be fully running throughout Mass, and all doors will remain open for the purpose of cross-ventilation. As mentioned above, even with all the doors open, ONLY the west-side doors will be used to enter and exit the church.
Use of facial masks – all Mass attendees must wear a face covering that covers the mouth and nose at all times while in the church. Children under the age of six are exempt from this requirement. Some may find the use of masks inconvenient or objectionable, but under the circumstances, the added safety is worth any inconvenience. This safety measure is not simply a matter of personal choice; a face covering protects not only the wearer, but others too, from potential contagion. As Bishop Weisenburger states, “The use of a mask is an especially strong sign of your support for your priests and ministers.” If you do not wish to use a mask, you are requested in advance to make use of the drive-through reception of Holy Communion on Saturday afternoons.
Congregational singing – there will be no congregational singing until further notice, since singing releases far more droplets of contagion into the air than talking. Also, all hymnals have been removed from the seat pockets.
No-touch collection baskets – collection baskets will not be passed from hand to hand. Collection baskets will be placed at each of the two west-side doors for you to use for giving your offertory upon exiting the church at the conclusion of Mass.
Other no-touch issues – there will be no holy water in the stoops (fonts) at the doors to the church. Also, until restrictions are much further relaxed, there will be no bulletins. Our bulletin is added to our parish website each week, and we will continue this practice for the foreseeable future.
Distribution of Holy Communion – the procedure for the drive-though reception of Holy Communion on Saturday afternoon will continue in its established manner. At Mass, reception of Holy Communion will be of the Body of Christ only, and reception will be in the hand only – no exceptions. At the usual time in the Mass when the Eucharist is received, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion will pass throughout the church using the cordoned off rows of chairs to distribute Communion to the community. The presiding priest will not distribute Holy Communion to the people.
Other liturgical practices – Sign of Peace: parishioners are to express the Sign of Peace in a way that does not involve person-to-person touch, such as a small bow or the “namaste” bow that had been adopted by may immediately before the full closure of the church to public worship. The Lord’s Prayer: the community is to suspend the holding of others’ hands during the praying of the Lord’s Prayer.
Confession – private confession at St. Frances Cabrini parish will continue to be by appointment only and will take place in the dining room of the parish office. The penitent must bring and make use of his/her own mask during the entire celebration of the Sacrament. The priest will also be wearing a mask, and strict social distancing will be observed.
Pre- and post-Mass interaction – for the foreseeable future, all interaction between clergy and parishioners is suspended especially for the safety and welfare of the clergy. One parishioner recently said, “Father Jay, we look on you as ‘essential personnel,’ so we need to keep you safe and healthy.” What a great and caring attitude!
Alternate worship experiences – Digital weekday and weekend Mass offerings are available for parishioners who choose not to come in person to public Masses or who are restricted from attendance. Among those options are:
- Bishop Weisenburger’s online video Mass
- EWTN “Live” Mass – multiple times on Sundays.
- Word on Fire (Bishop Robert Barron’s online video Mass)
Again, this must be stressed – all parishioners who have chronic health issues or are otherwise “vulnerable” are encouraged in the strongest terms possible to remain home and not make in-person visits to public places, including our church. For this reason, Fr. Jay will not be celebrating the two public Masses on Sundays. As you know, he is just a few months from celebrating his 70th birthday, and his health challenges are rather well-known at Cabrini. He will continue to celebrate a private Mass on Saturdays and will distribute Holy Communion afterwards to those who come for the drive-through reception of Holy Communion. Bp. Weisenburger, being aware of some of Fr. Jay’s health issues, strongly suggested that other clergy be invited to Cabrini to celebrate the Sunday Masses. Therefore, Fr. Marty Barnum has agreed to offer his services to our community.
I, as your pastor, am keenly aware that what I’m sharing with you today appears very restrictive. I want to cast all this in the most positive light possible and view all of the above directives as little steps being taken in the right direction. Putting our protocol together, composing this particular email as well as getting the church and the ministers ready for limited return to public worship have been major undertakings. I have every confidence that we as a community are well-able to implement all that is being asked of us so that we can move on to the next phases of reopening. Things are going to seem peculiar and even just plain strange for a little while … for all of us! However, I believe that with great patience and equally great good humor, we will rejoice in these little steps as we slowly move into this next phase of our shared history. So, let us once again commit ourselves and our parish into the hands of our Almighty Father, trusting that He will accomplish all things for the good of those who love Him and His ways.
With deepest brotherly love in Christ,