On the eve of the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus Christ Catholics across the diocese received the good news that they had long been waiting to hear: churches will soon begin to offer public Masses again. Although our houses of worship were never closed — as many institutions did out of necessity as the gravity of the novel coronavirus pandemic spread across America’s shores — and many faithful continued to visit their churches for solitary prayer, many have also felt a deepening hunger to return to the public Mass and receive the Eucharist.
As both local and national public leaders and health officials have continually said throughout this crisis returning to what will be a new sense of normal cannot be viewed as simply flipping a switch. Diocesan officials have been working exhaustively for weeks with the Governor’s Office and the Rhode Island Department of Health to implement the 10-point guidelines (rooted in the foundations of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops treatise on the subject) that will pave the way for public Masses to return in the Diocese of Providence beginning the weekend of May 30-31.
“With joy we will gather again to worship ‘in spirit and truth.’ We are grateful to State officials for their assistance and guidance as we prepare for this blessed moment,” Bishop Tobin said Wednesday, as the announcement was made. Although there will be a limit on the number of worshippers allowed into each service to adhere to social distancing guidelines — 25 percent of a church’s fire code capacity — the bishop said that he is pleased with this limitation as it will promote the health of the congregants as churches ease their way into this new routine.
And when engaging in a new routine, worshippers must remember to exercise patience as churches chart a way forward through these uncertain times in ways that minimize the health risks to everyone.