Pastors, parishioners full of joy as churches reopen
The locks are off, the doors are open, and people are once again welcome to enjoy a full Mass inside their church. In a quick turnaround, houses of worship were allowed to open during phase 2 of the post COVID reopenings, instead of phase 4 as originally planned.
On June 6, houses of worship were allowed to open to 25 percent of their capacity. The Diocese of Buffalo had already been working on guidelines for parishes once the churches did reopen. Churches had already been opening their doors to adoration and private prayer. Some had even experimented with outside Masses, either on the lawn or in the parking lot, with worshippers remaining in their cars.
“Mass is going fantastic. It’s so good to see people back in the pews,” said Father David Richards, administrator of Our Lady of Pompeii Parish, shortly after reopening.
The first Sunday after the announcement restoring Masses, the parish held an outdoor Mass in its parking lot, allowing parishioners to bring lawn chairs and spread out. Close to 400 people attended the service, which used volunteers to guide people through Communion procession.
Inside the church, two-thirds of the pews are now blocked off with tape, masks are required, and hand sanitizer is used before and after Communion. The Lancaster parish saw 27 people on their first daily Mass, which is average for morning worship.
“We’ve changed how people process forward for reception of Holy Communion,” explained Betsy Amico, director of Pastoral Ministry and Youth Ministry. “Instead of shoulder to shoulder down the center aisle, they’re approaching the eucharistic minister up the side aisle, then alternating coming back down the center aisle to reenter their pews.”
People planning on attending Sunday services will need to call ahead to make reservations. Pews will be assigned to abide by social distancing and the 25 percent capacity guidelines.
“So, we have like a reservation in a restaurant. On Saturday or Sunday, we’ll have someone leading them. ‘OK, the Blair family, 10 people? We’re going to pew number four. Everything has been put into place with that type of system,” said Father Richards.
This weekend, Our Lady of Pompeii will celebrate Masses at their usual times, but will maintain the 10 a.m. streaming daily Mass that it began at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tonawanda returned to the traditional indoor Mass on Sunday, June 7 at 7:30 a.m., the day after the announcement.
“Attendance was kind of low, partially because it was such a last-minute announcement,” said Father Matt Nycz, pastor. “Almost nobody knew about it. The announcement came out Saturday and, of course, there was no way to notify people easily.”
The parish taped off two-thirds of its pews to accommodate social distancing guidelines. Father Nycz does not expect the church to exceed the 25 percent cap within the next few weeks.
“People are afraid and still kind of uncertain,” he said. “To bring people back there’s going to be some readjustment. Perception of safety, I think that’s the key.”
The parish has also been conducting Masses outdoors while the church itself was being prepared. “They loved it. We’re doing it again this Corpus Christi Sunday,” he said. One of the benefits of outdoor Masses is that there are no capacity limits. “People enjoy the outdoors. Plus, they’re going to get some vitamin D from the sun.”
St. Teresa Parish in Buffalo saw 25 people at its first Mass Wednesday, June 10. “It went extremely well with no hitches whatsoever,” said Father James Cunningham, pastor.
Along with the now standard masks and hand sanitizer stations, the parish has only one Communion line. “We have white stands that my maintenance men have built that we put in the main aisle six feet apart, so they know to stand by each of those stands,” Father Cunningham explained.
Father Cunningham is very happy about having his parishioners back.
“It’s nice to be celebrating Mass with the public. As I said in my mailouts to them, we are a parish family, so today I stressed the fact that it’s nice to have the family back and to be together again,” he said.
Father Benjamin Fiore, SJ, pastor for St. Michael Parish in Buffalo, claims the Jesuit-run parish is bringing in standard numbers – 30 at morning Mass, 40 at noon, and 30 at 5 p.m.
“We have steady confessions. People know us for that and they have been coming regularly in good numbers for the confessions,” he said. “It’s going very smoothly. I’m very surprised. The people know the social distancing, so we don’t have much of a problem there. We have a ton of room, so there isn’t a problem with that either.”
To keep things even safer, only the main celebrant has been allowed in the sanctuary. No lectors or concelebrants have been allowed so far.
“We haven’t had anyone on the altar except the main celebrant for this week, just to get used to things,” Father Fiore said. “Then next week we’ll probably start with our lectors and maybe eucharistic ministers, but we’re not having any of them during this first week of opening.”
After the 12:10 p.m. Mass, visitors emptied into the parking lot with smiles behind their masks.
“We usually come here for confession and with confessions and Masses opening up again, this has been our first opportunity to receive the sacrament of confession before going to Mass,” said Dennis Weiss, who brought his wife to St. Michael’s shortly after it reopened.
“Mass was beautiful after no having been to Mass for three months. It was different, definitely different, but it was a good spiritual experience to be able to go,” added Mary Jo Weiss. “We’ve been watching either the televised Mass on TV or the online Masses from various different churches. Some local, some not local. But it was just so nice to receive the Body of Christ again.”
Margaret Mancinelli was overjoyed to be able to receive the Eucharist once more.
“I am so blessed. I’ve been here every day for adoration with no Eucharist, and I’ve been crying all week. Since I can receive the Blessed Sacrament again, it’s a wonderful thing. I hope more people come back to God now,” she said.