Priests and staff at Catholic churches across the region are busy trying to prepare to open for Masses the weekend after Memorial Day.
With Gov. Charlie Baker allowing houses of worship to open with restrictions against he spread of COVID-19, church workers are doing tasks such as marking arrows on floors to direct people during Masses and mapping out socially distanced seating arrangements.
After the governor’s decision, the Archdiocese of Boston cleared the way for Catholic churches to open as soon as Memorial Day weekend. Leaders of local churches, however, are finding it’s not as simple as making sure everyone is wearing a mask and sitting far enough apart to follow social distancing rules.
Most parish leaders say they and their staffs need more time to make preparations, so the weekend after Memorial Day is a more likely time for reopening.
One Haverhill church, Sacred Hearts in Bradford, is keeping open the possibility of starting Masses on Memorial Day weekend.
The Rev. John Delaney, pastor of Sacred Hearts Parish, said his staff has been working hard to prepare the church for a possible opening on Saturday for the 4 p.m. Mass, but as of Wednesday afternoon there was a 50/50 chance that it will happen, he said.
"We're discussing what we can do to bring it all together and I have to submit a certification plan to Bishop Hennessey," Delaney said, "although we're not there yet as we must ensure we're following all safety guidelines and it's a lot of work."
Delaney said he hopes to email a video to parish members on Saturday morning to explain the safety changes, and post the video on the parish website.
So far at Sacred Hearts, arrows have been placed on the church floor to direct foot traffic, pews have been marked off for social distancing and sanitation materials and masks and gloves are on hand.
"We've cleaned the church and now we're talking about entry and exit, Communion flow, and sanitizing between masses by our custodian and a group of volunteers," Delaney said. "We met with staff for a walk through and we hope to produce a video showing what to do when attending Mass and how to receive communion."
According to social distancing rules, arrow markings must be placed on church floors to promote one-way foot traffic. Parishioners must maintain six-foot social distancing and must wearing face coverings. There will be fewer people than normal allowed in each Mass, and the gatherings are likely to be shortened to allow enough time for disinfecting surfaces between Masses. Surfaces that people touch during Mass will be wiped down with sanitizer before the next Mass begins.
No matter what option a parish chooses, the pastor must be able to ensure that the size of the congregation in the church is not more than 40% of capacity and not more than the church can fit with social distancing maintained.
There will be no hymnals or missalettes — the books containing songs and prayers recited during Masses or services — and there will be no holy water.
No processions, including collections of money, will take place at Catholic churches. Parishioners wishing to give money will be able to do so at the entrance of the church, where a basket will be placed. Another way to donate is through a program called “90-Days Now - For Your Parish’’ — an online payment method that people can use to give money directly to the church of their choice.
There will be no altar servers, no choirs, no singing by parishioners and no invitation to participate in a sign of peace, typically a handshake. Communion at Masses will have its own set of rules, including no hand-to-hand contact, meaning the priest or eucharistic minister will drop the eucharist, or piece of bread, into a parishioner’s outstretched hand. If their hands touch, the priest or minister must pause to disinfect their hands. No wine will be given out. People who line up for Communion must stand at least six feet apart.