NORWALK—Parishioners at St. Matthew Church in Norwalk celebrated public Mass for the first time since mid-March. But, this time, instead of being in the church sanctuary, Mass was outside in the open air on the church grounds.
Following the global spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the public celebration of Mass was suspended in dioceses throughout the world. Diocese of Bridgeport Bishop Frank J. Caggiano mandated that all public Masses celebrated in the presence of the lay faithful were suspended in the Diocese of Bridgeport effective March 16.
On May 11, working in tandem with state and local health departments, Bishop Caggiano announced General Guidelines for Resumption of Public Worship beginning May 21, the celebration of Ascension Thursday. This first phase of the plan gives parishes the option of offering outdoor Masses with a limit of 50 people, including priests and other ministers, or a parking lot Mass with a limit of the number of vehicles to be determined by the size of the parking lot.
These Guidelines establish protocols and procedures making sure the safety and health of our faithful and clergy is of the highest importance in whatever parish plan is created. Adherence to appropriate health safety precautions for all who attend is required, including limiting the number of faithful present and maintaining social distancing standards.
The principal celebrant of the outdoor Mass at St. Matthew was parochial vicar Father Sunil Pereira, I.M.S., and concelebrated by pastor Monsignor Walter C. Orlowski, V.F., KCHS.
According to Msgr. Orlowski, “God is good to us, to allow us to gather and worship him.
“People are excited, but they remain cautious. Yet the people of St. Matthew are people of great faith. This is a time for all of us to decide what is our personal comfort zones. Safety is first. Then this allows us the opportunity to come to Mass and getting back to into doing what we must do—not only worshipping together—but putting our faith into action.”
Gene Mensching and Joan Walsh are long-time parishioners at St Matthew. They attended the first outdoor Mass on Ascension Thursday. During the outdoor Mass, parishioners bring lawn chairs and maintain social distancing protocols during Mass and while receiving Holy Communion.
“This is fantastic,” Mensching said.
“It’s the perfect way to come back for the first time,” Walsh added.
“We are very anxious to be here and receive Holy Communion and to be with all the people we haven’t seen in a long time.”
Liz Reid from Stamford attended the afternoon parking lot Mass. For the parking lot Mass, worshipers remain in their vehicles and listen to the Mass broadcast on FM radio. Again, social distancing is maintained with regards to how the vehicles are parked and as the faithful leave their vehicles to receive Holy Communion.
“Monsignor and Father Sunil have worked tirelessly to keep faith in everyone’s mind and heart.
“It’s a beautiful day. I am thankful to God and looking familiar to celebrating Mass with familiar faces, people that I have enjoyed celebrating Mass with over the years,” Reid added. “Most importantly, I was anticipating receiving the Holy Eucharist.
“My mom, Dodi McCollem, came with me to Mass today. We originally lived across the pond from St. Matthew, but my mom has lived in Florida for the past several years before recently moving back to Connecticut.
“As we approached the church today, she had tears in her eyes.”
The outdoor public celebration of Mass remains optional at the discretion of the local pastor, and is subject to such elements as inclement weather. Local parishes should be contacted for specifics on the resumption of public Masses.
For more information on the General Guidelines for Resumption of Public Worship, please click here.