BRIDGEPORT—Parishes throughout the diocese will take the first step toward resuming public worship on Ascension Thursday and this weekend as priests begin celebrating outdoor Masses.
The Diocese of Bridgeport is the first in Connecticut to resume public Masses since they were suspended on March 16, as a result of the rapid spread of the coronarvirus in Fairfield County and the stay-at-home orders issue by the state.
In a May 1, Letter to the Faithful Bishop Frank J. Caggiano approved optional outdoor Masses beginning on May 21, the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, as the first phase in a plan to resume the celebration of Mass with the faithful during the pandemic. It will remain in effect until church buildings and other indoor venues can be safely reopened for worship.
Under the plan announced by the bishop, the resumption of public Masses in outdoor settings is optional and each pastor will make the final decision for his parish.
More parishes are expected to move forward with outdoor Masses in the coming days as they work out the logistics of the reservations and social distancing that will be required to safeguard the health of all involved while protecting the sacredness of the liturgy.
“There are a number of parishes that are opting to immediately begin the outdoor celebration of Mass as the diocese takes this important step forward in the resumption of public worship. I am grateful to the pastors who have done a wonderful job of creating plans that allow us to worship outdoors for the time being in a safe manner for all who come,” said Bishop Caggiano.
The bishop said he hopes to have more news about the “full return to church buildings for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” and that he understands the hardship that laity and priests have experienced during this time “when we have not been able to come together as a family around the Lord’s Table.”
Within hours of the bishop’s announcement to resume Masses, thousands visited the diocesan website to learn more.
The bishop, in consultation with pastors, also issued highly detailed guidelines which outline the sacramental and logistic considerations of moving Mass outdoors and limiting the number of people in attendance to safeguard the health of laity and clergy.
Under the plan, a pastor can choose to hold outdoor Masses with seating limited to 49 people outdoors, or in parish parking lots where people will remain in their cars except for coming forward for the reception of Holy Communion.
The diocese will constantly re-evaluate and update the plan based on the needs of the faithful and the course of the outbreak over the coming months.
The bishop said he believes that the shelter-in-place mandates saved many lives, but that it is now time to move ahead cautiously and safely with a phased-in resumption of Masses.
• Out of the ongoing concern for the health and safety of all parishioners, the bishop announced that he will continue to dispense with the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
• The guidelines also suggest that anyone who is vulnerable or in the high risk category should consider remaining sheltered at home for the time being.
• The resumption of Mass will require a system of reservations to ensure social distancing and an orderly and reverent return to the sacraments outside of the church building.
• The bishop will also continue to celebrate his online 8 am Sunday Mass, which is live-streamed on the diocesan website (www.bridgeportdiocese.org), and he has encouraged pastors to continue their live-streamed Masses.
The plan was developed by the bishop after consultation with pastors and diocesan officials. It allows each pastor to make the final decision about holding an outdoor Mass, the location on parish grounds, the distribution of Holy Communion, and the Mass times throughout the weekend.
If outdoor seating is chosen, people will be seated on chairs that will be arranged with proper social distancing.
The number of cars that can be accommodated in a parking lot Mass will depend upon the size of the lot or field that will be used, the need to distance cars six feet apart from each other and allow for the safe exit of any car in case of an emergency.
The bishop has asked each pastor to draft a parish plan for this first phase of resumption of public Mass to ensure that the particular needs of his parish are properly addressed.
“The guiding principle behind all such planning is to ensure the safety and health of the faithful and clergy, while preserving the sacredness of our liturgy and worship,” he said.
The bishop acknowledged the great hardship experienced by the faithful during the suspension of public Mass and said he and priests very much look forward to seeing people return to worship.
“I wish to express my sincere thanks for your patience, perseverance and fidelity during this most difficult time, when public Masses were suspended. While it has been a great sacrifice for all of us, especially those who have watched a relative or friend fall ill, buried a loved one or remained in isolation and even fear,” he said,
“I believe that observing the state’s shelter at home order has saved many lives. On behalf of all priests of the diocese, permit me to say how much we have missed you and look forward to welcoming you back home to your parish home.”
Deacon Patrick Toole, secretary of the curia and episcopal delegate of administration, said the resumption of Mass beginning with outdoor Mass will require great care and due diligence. “We feel that we can make our churches as safe or safer than other essential businesses and services, and we are committed to doing that”
He said that pastors are developing their own reservation systems or using a system that has been licensed by the diocese, and they will be notifying their parishioners how to sign up for Masses at their particular parish. Reservations are most likely going to be taken online or by calling the parish office.
The diocesan planning process, developed based on information provided by health experts, assumes that the COVID-19 virus will remain a threat for some time with possible outbreaks in the Fall and Winter. The goal is to protect the faithful from any possible relapse while moving forward and preparing for the full re-opening of churches to the extent possible.
The diocese is currently working on plans for the return to church, which will include deep cleaning, ongoing sanitizing, the wearing of masks, proper social distancing, and the renewal of other restrictions including the suspension of the Sign of Peace and reception of the Communion through the chalice.
To view the complete guide- lines for outdoor Masses and for further information visit the diocesan website at www.bridge- portdiocese.org, or contact your parish.