Parishes to offer public Masses again, with limitations

Catholics in the Archdiocese of Omaha are days away from being able to return to their churches for Mass and other sacred liturgies – but that will happen in a limited way, following state guidelines to maintain safe distancing and adhering to other health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Still, that’s welcome news for people who’ve been longing to gather in prayer and receive the sacraments – and also for their leader, Archbishop George J. Lucas.

“I’m grateful that soon we will be able to welcome parishioners back to our churches for Mass,” he said in an April 25 statement. “We will work within the necessary restrictions for everyone’s safety. We continue to pray for those who lead our local and state governments, those who shape our public health policies, all suffering from COVID-19 and those who care for them.”

The reopening of churches for liturgies goes into effect May 4, but people are still not obliged to attend. The archbishop’s dispensation from the obligation for Mass on Sundays and holy days remains.

In fact, many people are encouraged to stay home, including the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, those who live with or have contact with the elderly or people at risk, those who display respiratory or flu-like symptoms and the people who live with them, and those who have COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with the illness.

The archdiocese announced its new guidelines April 25, the day after Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts announced the state’s easing of restrictions for churches, businesses and social gatherings.

Parishes have been unable to offer the public celebration of Mass for about seven weeks. Other non-liturgical activities are still banned.

The new archdiocesan guidelines offer several ways to keep people healthy:

– For the benefit of those at home, parishes are urged to continue livestreaming or recording Sunday Masses.

– To keep people at least 6 feet apart, some parishes might have to use overflow spaces, as they would at Easter or Christmas.

– Families are encouraged to participate in weekday Masses, and parishes might have to rearrange Mass schedules to accommodate families.

– Hymnals and missalettes will likely be unavailable, and the sign of peace will not be extended.

– Collection baskets won’t be passed from person to person, but will stay in a fixed spot.

– Congregants are to stay at least 6 feet apart in the Communion line and will not receive the Precious Blood. And those who wish to receive the Sacred Host on the tongue are asked to take up the end of the Communion line.

For the complete set of guidelines, visit the archdiocesan website, Scroll down to the “Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic” and click “Latest Updates.”

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