First week of public Mass a “success” with social distancing measures in place

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This past weekend, churches in the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux resumed the celebration of public Mass on a limited basis in accordance with mandates outlined in Phase One of state and federal guidelines for reopening.


Though parishioners returned to find a very different, “new normal” way of worshipping, Bishop Shelton Fabre said the first weekend was a success, and churches will continue to operate this way for the time being.


“The more than two weeks of preparation that we put into planning for weekend Masses inside of the church was very wise and very prudent, and I think everything, as far as I have heard…went according to our plan,” Fabre.


In forming that plan, Fabre said the diocese’s primary focus was always the safety of parishioners.


“Our greatest concern was for people’s safety. Through all of this, my effort has been to balance people’s safety with spiritual worship,” Fabre said. 


According to the plan outlined by the Diocese, some parishes are operating through an online reservation system and others on a first-come-first-serve basis to limit capacity inside of church buildings to 25 percent occupancy. Attendees must wear masks at all times and maintain six feet of distance between households. In addition, Fabre says the insides of churches are sanitized after each Mass.


As for Communion, the diocese has put measures in place to ensure that distribution remains sanitary.


“My strong recommendation is that people receive Communion in the hand, and the way that is done is that the Eucharistic minister or priest, who is wearing a mask, places the edge of the host in the person’s hand that allows the rest of the host to…reverently fall into the person’s hand,” Fabre said.


If any contact occurs between the minister and recipient, the minister is to immediately stop and sanitize his or her hands before giving Communion to the next person in line.


If someone wishes to receive Communion on the tongue, the person distributing must sanitize his or her hands immediately, regardless of whether or not contact occurs. However, Fabre “strongly recommends” against receiving on the tongue. 


In addition to Sunday Mass, some weekday Masses are once again being offered with the same guidelines in effect. Fabre said the first round of weekday Masses were well-attended. 


For those concerned about attending public Masses, the diocese is continuing to offer the same options that were available before Louisiana entered Phase One.


“I told the priests, what we are doing now is more adding than taking away, so we are now adding the possibility of having Masses inside of the church, but we’re not taking away anything right now…we’re still trying to reach out to people and meet their needs,” Fabre said.


For a start, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass remains in effect. The diocese continues to emphasize the fact that those who are sick, immunocompromised or caring for someone who falls into these categories are still not required to attend Mass.


As of now, Fabre said that the diocese is “a ways off” from lifting that dispensation. 


“We would have to have people more comfortable and civil officials loosening more and more of the restrictions,” Fabre said. “I do think that the lifting of the obligation to attend Mass is still in effect for the foreseeable future.”


Fabre says some Masses will continue to be live-streamed for those wishing to watch from home. 


In addition, churches still have the option of offering outdoor Masses with social distancing measures in place.


“Of course, the Masses outside are very well-attended because there’s no limit and people right now are concerned about going into a building where you might be a little closed-in…so the options for Masses outside continues,” Fabre said.


Moving forward, the diocese will continue to follow the lead of civil officials in making decisions about the celebration of Mass. Fabre said the balance between safety and parishioners’ “desire for worship” will remain a priority. 


Above all, he said he hopes to see a growing comfort with the idea of returning to the celebration of public Mass. 


“It is my hope that as we continue in this for the next few weeks, that people will get more comfortable coming back to Mass inside of the Church buildings,” Fabre said.