Though area Catholic churches are poised to soon reopen for public services, attendance will be limited as parishes follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.
The Archdiocese of Dubuque recently announced that open-to-the-public Masses will resume on Saturday, May 30, and parishes in the Diocese of Madison can reopen that weekend as well. Parishes in the Diocese of Rockford can gather for Mass starting Monday, May 25.
However, social distancing rules will limit the number of attendees at all Masses for the time being. Masses continue to be offered virtually, and the obligation for those in the Catholic faith to attend Mass will remain lifted.
“We eventually want all the pews filled and programs well- attended. It just might take some time,” said Dubuque Archbishop Michael Jackels in a video message. “Prayers for the end of the pandemic’s threat, as well as patience and cooperation, are what’s needed most right now.”
Requests for comment from the archdiocese for this story were unsuccessful.
“The parishioners in the Archdiocese of Dubuque are kindly asked to understand if Mass is not available locally, should the priest decide that it isn’t prudent to reopen on account of his own compromised health situation, or because the coronavirus is still raging in the area,” Jackels said in a statement posted on the archdiocese’s website.
A checklist for parishes to go through as they consider how best to reopen to the community also was provided on the Archdiocese of Dubuque website.
In the Diocese of Rockford, no more than 10 people will be able to attend Masses, said Penny Wiegert, the diocese’s director of communication and publications. Additional Masses might be offered to accommodate more in-person attendees.
“It’s going to look different,” Wiegert said. “People are used to coming to Mass, chit-chatting, having coffee and donuts. Not anymore. You go to church, then you go home.”
Brent King, director of communications for Diocese of Madison, said parishes were receiving a detailed list Thursday on how to reopen for services. Parishes will be able to hold services at 25% capacity initially.
“We asked people to be patient,” King said. “It’s going to be different.”
Both priests and church attendees are encouraged to wear masks in all local Catholic parishes. People who are older than 65 or have underlying health conditions are asked to stay home.
Attendees of Masses in the Archdiocese of Dubuque and the Diocese of Rockford are asked to receive the holy communion with their hands for the time being.
Wiegert also said churches in the Diocese of Rockford were asked to remove hymnals and pamphlets from the pews, and any music that is played should be familiar so no one is sharing books. Churches also were asked to empty holy water fonts and deliver holy water to homes if people ask, she added.
“Things are not going to operate the way they once did,” Wiegert said. “It’s not like someone is going to flip a switch and everything will go back to normal. … That would be wonderful, but that’s not the reality.”