Parishes Slowly Reopening for Masses
Phase 1 Offers Transition Time
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
June 4, 2020
DIOCESE—It has taken lots of work by the diocese and by parishes to design and to meet requirements to safely celebrate Mass with parishioners, and all that preparation now is beginning to bear fruit.
Volunteers have been trained in more than 70 parishes to date, with some providing Masses for 10 people the week of May 25. 
That early stage will now be followed by expanded attendance at Masses — the result of conversations between the dioceses and archdiocese in Illinois, the governor’s office and state health department.
“The resumption of the Mass with the presence of the faithful is a great joy for the Church,” says Bishop David Malloy. “In the Diocese of Rockford we are approaching this cautiously and step by step. Our effort is to balance both the need and our right to feed our faith and our Eucharistic communion with our contribution to the common good among ourselves in the society we live in.
“For the last three months God has allowed us to pass through this painful test of the deadly coronavirus that has taken more than 5,000 lives in our state. I am grateful to our priests for all of the creative and faithful work they have done by offering Mass and other devotions and reflections, especially virtually and on line. 
“Our goal now is to take every precaution so that our return to Mass does not become an occasion to spread the virus and undo all of the sacrifices and good work of the last few months.”
Pastors from the Aurora, DeKalb, Freeport and McHenry deaneries talked with The Observer about their experiences with Phase 1.
Parish teams
Father Robert Jones at St. Katharine Drexel Parish in Sugar Grove is grateful for his parish team, which includes a couple of nurses who were extra helpful as the team figured out what to do to keep everyone safe. 
Father Carl Beekman of St. Mary Parish in Sycamore said he had no problem finding volunteers and says his parishioners are people with “a lot of faith, very generous” who responded to the call for assistance with “No problem! What do you want me to do?”
Father Brian Grady of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Crystal Lake opted to use mostly his parish staff and deacons to check people in and usher them where they need to go. 
The office, he says, has “been open for quite a while,” describing how they were “very proactive getting our facilities prepped to reopen. ....We are blessed with the facilities we have. ... We didn’t need to make a lot of changes, (and) our staff really wanted to get back to work.”
As soon as Gov. J.B. Pritzker reclassified churches as essential entities, “then we reopened offices,” Father Grady says.
Father Peter Snieg is pastor of both St. Mary in East Dubuque and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Menominee. 
His volunteers don’t need to work too hard because, he says, “Everybody, they get it. No need for great explanations.  Everybody seems to be complying ...  just kind of naturally, just kind of fallen in (to place, and we) don’t need to give a lot of direction.”
Both St. Katharine in Sugar Grove and St. Mary in Sycamore are using the the same program, SignUpGenius, for parishioners to register online for Mass. 
Parishioners were told through Flocknotes to call or come in to sign up at the office at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Crystal Lake. 
In East Dubuque and Menominee, the 20 or so parishioners who attended daily Mass before the coronavirus were called by the parish business manager and scheduled in every other day. Sunday Masses are being reserved for first communicants and their families, Father Snieg says.
“They’ve been waiting, waiting, waiting,” he adds. Attendance by those first communicant families “will carry us (through Sundays) for two months.” 
“If things go well and there are no outbreaks of the virus,” they hope by then to be in Phase Two and can welcome more people, he says.
Masks and sanitizer
These four parishes have masks available if parishioners need them, but so far they have come with their own. 
Each parish has bottles of sanitizer available as parishioners enter, including in the holy water fonts at Father Snieg’s parishes. 
“It’s the best place for them to see it,” he says. “It works!  It’s the first thing that people go to.”
Father Jones wears his mask through the entire service, including the homily. He admits the masks “take some getting used to” and says his is warm but otherwise “not too bad.”
When at the altar, both Father Snieg and Father Grady are far away from parishioners, so they put on masks once they are ready to distribute communion. Father Beekman has opted for a face shield.
All four use hand sanitizer before distributing communion, and Father Jones also has a small table with sanitizer to quickly use during communion if he accidently touches a parishioner’s hands.
Father Snieg says that kneeling at a communion rail and receiving the Eucharist on the tongue was the tradition at St. Mary’s, but says everyone realizes it would mean arms and hands are on the rail and “people understand. They’ve adapted nicely. They understand” that they need to receive in their hands.
Since there are only 10 people, Father Grady says the celebrant at his parish just goes to where they are (in the pews). “Then they don’t have to worry about spacing while in line. It makes it a little easier for them.”
Clean up
The Sugar Grove church has four “banks” of pews, Father Jones says. Although Sundays’ choir or cantor will sing behind a clear, acrylic barrier, the bank of pews closest to them will remain unoccupied. 
One bank is used for those attending Saturday evening Mass. Those pews are cleaned, and on Sunday the three banks are used, one at a time, for the 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Mass. All three banks of pews then will be sanitized at once, he says. 
“That prevents us from scrambling” to sanitize pews in the half hour between Masses, he says.
In Sycamore, parishioners limit their seating to specific pews, in part to assist in cleaning, Father Beekman says.
“We have assigned spots so we know exactly where we need to clean,” Father Grady says of his Crystal Lake church. “We have two pews between each spot — a little more than six feet. ... On Sundays we’ll keep them in the same spot and ... that way we don’t have to second guess where they sat.”
Father Snieg’s parishes are small and they use tape and yarn to block off pews to direct people to safe distance. That also helps them know which pews to sanitize after Mass.
10 people limit
Father Jones says that, “people are very cooperative and understanding. They are going along with all the protocols ... . Obviously there are some who think we can do far more; (while) others are not ready to come out yet.”
East Dubuque and Menominee are next door to Wisconsin and Iowa. Wisconsin has opened churches at 25 percent capacity, and that is “just hard for people when they hear that,” Father Snieg says.
Father Grady sees the same phenomenon in his near-Chicago parish. 
“I think part of the challenge nowadays is people can (go online and) see what other states (and) dioceses are doing,” he says. “Illinois is surrounded by other states a little more ahead (than here). ... I think people look at that. ... A lot of them are at home (with) more time to think (and) search the internet. It adds to the frustration.”
On the other hand, his parish is experiencing something that some others around the diocese have seen in this first week of 10-person Masses: those few available spaces are not necessarily filled.
“I think there is still a certain degree of fear, even with the precautions we take,” Father Grady says. “So we really had a lot of spots open. We told people they could sign up for a second or third Mass.”
Father Beekman believes that coming back to Mass again after so long is “kind of like shock and awe” for some. Parishioners have “been deprived too long.” At the first couple of his weekday Masses, he says, “some were in tears. It was beautiful.”
However, he adds with a chuckle, other people have been “a little hesitant” and some, he thinks, “are really comfortable at the house.” 
He’s been encouraging those who are reticent, saying “the Lord is inviting you and loves you; He and the Father also want to be in communion with you.”
Pastors’ thoughts
Father Jones says he thinks it is a good thing to have the bishops of Illinois work together with the state to determine how to safely reopen. With all the stress from the pandemic itself, he says, “We don’t need a conflict that we create.”
Father Beekman says he hopes his parishioners and others ask themselves,“What have you gleaned from the time in the desert?”
“If we haven’t learned anything, something is wrong,” he says. “How have we grown? … It’s going to take a while (and) may never be the same-same.” 
He says priests need to be “extra sacrificial” as they seek to serve people whose pre-COVID physical, spiritual and emotional struggles are only enhanced by the duress of the pandemic.
Father Grady looks for a silver lining, saying, “One good that comes from this whole mess is we have to think outside the box, learn about social media and the role it can have for evangelization.”
Father Snieg concludes simply, “People are so happy to be back.”
Check with your parish about its reopening schedule.


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