In this Sundays’ first reading we hear that Philip went down to Samaria and proclaimed Christ….and there was great joy in the city! Well, today! I’m pleased to announce what we had hoped for last week has become a reality. Our Church is opening up again! Beginning this Monday, May 18th, Prince of Peace Catholic Church will again be open for private prayer. Although we’re not yet open for mass and liturgies, this is the first step that direction, and it’s a big one.
Now everything isn’t going to go immediately back to normal, but we are moving in steps toward normal, making sure that we’re both working to help everyone return to the sacraments and keep people safe in the process. As I go through these, I do want to reassure everyone that through all of these steps, our bishop has continued to dispense everyone from the Sunday Mass obligation, and we at Prince of Peace, will continue to stream all masses online. If you have serious health concerns, please feel free to stay home.
Starting Monday May 18th, we’ll be beginning Bishop’s “Yellow Phase-Step 1.” Our Church will be open for private prayer and confessions will be resuming. Now there will be some safety protocols that we’ll have to follow through this process, so I’d like to go through those with you today.
Yellow Phase - Step One - Monday May 18th
During the yellow phase step one, we are limited to no more than 25 people in the Church at a time, everyone is required to wear masks while they are in the Church, we all have to maintain a social distance of about 6 feet, and all of the contact areas have to be sanitized regularly. At the Bishop’s direction, we’ve removed all hymnals, prayer cards, and shared resources. You are welcome to bring those things with you to Church, but we ask that you do not leave them in the Church.
The Church will be open for private prayer Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 9am until 7pm. We ask that everyone both enter and exit via the handicap entrance. When you enter church, there will be blue tape marking off each of the pews to make for 25 seats. You are welcome to sit in any of the marked off pews or to kneel in front of the votive candles, provided no one else is there. By marking these off, it’s both easier to see how many people are in church and easier for us to sanitize as we only have to sanitize where people have been sitting. People who live in the same household are welcome to sit next to each other in the pew, but those not living in the same house are each asked to take a separate space.
If you would happen to see all of the seats occupied, please wait outside of church until you see someone leave. If you are in church and all 25 seats are filled, please limit your visit to around 30 minutes out of respect for those waiting. When you arrive, there will be a number of sanitizing stations with a spray bottle, paper towel, hand sanitizer and a small trashcan on the windowsill. Before and after you sit, please spray and wipe off the pew where you will be sitting.
We are looking for volunteers to help us sanitize the church each evening that we are open. It’s not hard, and will only take a few minutes. If you would be willing to commit to spending about half an hour in Church each week and wiping things down as we close at 7pm, please call Sue at the office. We have the first week covered, and I’d like to continue to have the Church open at least 4 days a week, but continuing, or expanding that depends on how many people are willing to commit to helping us sanitize at the end of each day. We’re asking those of you who are willing to consider committing to one night each week. As I said, if you're willing, please call Sue at the office to sign up for a day.
Beginning Monday May 18th, we will also be resuming confessions. After some thought, we’ll be having confessions both in the morning and in the evening. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, we will have confession in the regular confessional from 9am until 9:30am, or as long as is needed. I would ask that people line up next to the already marked pew spaces, so that we’re providing enough space between people. For those who would prefer not to be in the enclosed space, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, we will have confession outside on the rectory back porch at 7:30pm. In either case, we have a large plexiglass sneeze-guard, just like at the grocery store for the safety of both of us. Bishop has also asked us to develop a plan so that you can have a time with access to multiple priests, as we would have for our Lenten Penance Service. As those plans get worked out, I’ll share them with you.
Should you have a loved one pass away at this time, now that we have moved to yellow, we will close the Church for private prayer for the duration of the funeral. We will be able to have a normal funeral in Church, but attendance will be limited to 20 people, to leave room for the liturgical ministers and the funeral director’s staff.
Communion Calls and Anointing of the Sick
At this time, our bishop has authorized us to begin our communion call and shut-in visits. I am willing to begin some limited rounds, in light of the reality right now, I would simply ask that those who are homebound call and let us know if they would like visited. Many have expressed to me that while they would typically like to receive communion, they would rather we hold off for a while yet. I’ll be happy to honor those family’s wishes either way.
Looking forward for the next few weeks, I know that some of this will be a new experience for all of us, but I’m hopeful that we can work together smoothly through these new processes, so that we will be prepared to move quickly into Bishop’s Yellow Phase Step Two, which will include resuming public daily masses and a public distribution of holy communion. I would invite all of you to make sure to read Bishop’s letter this week. We’ve also posted it on both our website and our Facebook page. He details some of the other steps that will be coming once we’ve got this step running smoothly. He talks about how Sunday Masses might work in the near future as well as how first communion and confirmation may work.
I know some of these things are going to be a little inconvenient, and they're going to take some getting used to. Even so, I’m excited that we’re going to be able to start having people back to church and back to confession! I hope you’ll work together with me so that we can get our Church open and moving again!
God Bless You - Fr Matt
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.