TRUMBULL—Though they donned face masks, made a reservation online, and sanitized frequently, parishioners at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Trumbull rejoiced in the opportunity this past weekend to once again attend public indoor Mass. Since mid-March, Father Joseph Marcello has looked out at empty pews while celebrating the Eucharist, but on this Sunday morning, he greeted the faithful with a wide smile and a joyous “Welcome home!”
As this pastor and his Reopening Team readied the church for the weekend’s homecoming, they acknowledged people’s enthusiasm but also recognized their apprehension due to the health concerns of COVID-19. Jim Panullo, Director of Parish Operations, emphasized that sanitizing was the first and foremost concern.
“We want to be sure that everyone feels safe. That is our priority,” he said, adding that the church building can accommodate up to 85 parishioners based on current guidelines. “We have volunteers for check-in, seating, and guarding the doors, and we’re cleaning all pews between Masses.”
Those pews, though not full due to social distancing, were nevertheless occupied by dozens of parishioners who returned to a very different protocol than they remember from three months ago when the pandemic shuttered churches in the diocese. Though many have watched the live-streamed Masses, Panullo said that it’s just not the same for them without Holy Communion.
“Our parishioners have been very enthusiastic about returning, and I’ve heard from many families how much they’re looking forward to being back in church for Mass,” said Father Marcello.
Such enthusiasm was felt as parishioners, standing six feet apart, waited for the doors of St. Catherine’s to open on this Corpus Christi morning. With red roses adorning the altar and mild June breezes blowing through the windows, the church was filled with a sense of renewal.
Upon entering and presenting their reservation ticket, those in attendance were then escorted by volunteers to preassigned seats as only every third pew was open. Masks, required throughout the entirety of Mass, were allowed to be briefly removed during Holy Communion. For added safety in the foreseeable future, the offertory basket will not be passed, hymnals have been removed, and the Sign of Peace has been omitted. To keep a proper social distance, parishioners are guided by blue tape in six-foot markings on the floor and yellow caution tape around the vacant pews.
Despite these changes, it was the expectation of being together again with his parishioners that excited Father Marcello. “I’m really looking forward to just seeing them again and praying with them, notwithstanding that the experience of Mass will be necessarily a little different for the time being,” he said. Many people, he added, especially those in high-risk categories, will continue to view Mass at home.
That sense of community was also something that longtime parishioner Tom Matthews missed over the past few months. “It’s really good to be back,” said Matthews, a volunteer member of the Reopening Team. “I take pleasure in the routine of Mass and in the strong connection between faith and community. There was an emptiness there.”
As Father Marcello addressed his congregation, he acknowledged the suffering many have withstood during the pandemic but reminded his parishioners that Christ was ever present. “Our lives have been off balance. We are all longing for a return to a semblance of normalcy,” he said. “But throughout this time, there has always been hope. The flame above the sanctuary has never left us. Christ is powerfully sustaining us.”
Weekend indoor Masses at St. Catherine, which require an online reservation, will be held on Saturday at 4 pm and 7:15 pm and on Sunday at 7:30 am, 9 am, and 11 am. No reservation is needed for the 7:30 am Daily Mass.
By Emily Clark