As the first daily liturgies get ready to resume tomorrow, local parishes take extra precautions to ensure parishioners’ safety, maintain space

DETROIT — Catholics across the Archdiocese of Detroit will receive the Eucharist tomorrow.

Three months ago, such a reality would have been taken for granted, but now, such news is being received with tremendous gratitude as parishes prepare to celebrate public Masses for the first time in 66 days. 

After Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron released a series of safety guidelines last week, parishes have been busy preparing their churches for worship, from sanitizing pews to marking off seating to ensure no more than 25 percent capacity — one of the key requirements for reopening.

Randy Bowers, operations manager at Old St. Mary’s Parish in Detroit’s Greektown neighborhood, said the parish is ready to resume its regular Mass schedule with a 12:15 p.m. Mass on Tuesday.

Old St. Mary’s Parish in downtown Detroit’s Greektown district will reopen tomorrow for its 12:15 p.m. Mass. Certain pews will be roped off to ensure social distancing, and floor markings will direct parishioners where to stand for Communion. (Detroit Catholic file photo) 

“We have counted and measured the pews in our church, marking them off to make sure we have the correct amount for 25 percent capacity where people can stay six feet apart,” Bowers told Detroit Catholic. “We’re going to ribbon off every other pew in the church, keeping people front to back six feet away. We figure our capacity will be a little over 210 people.”

While some parishes are returning to public Mass tomorrow, others have elected to wait out of extra precaution. All parishes must resume public worship by Friday, May 29.

Bowers said there is plenty of space in the iconic neo-Romanesque church, which can seat about 1,100 people. Attendance at normal weekday Masses usually ranges from 20 to 40 people, but with most downtown offices closed, Bowers is confident the parish won’t have to turn people away.

As with all parishes, Old St. Mary’s will require all parishioners above the age of 2 to wear a mask when attending Mass. Hand sanitizer will be available for the faithful, who will be directed by ushers to particular pews. Markings on the floors will direct people where to stand in the Communion line to maintain adequate spacing.

At some parishes, worship books will be removed from the pews in order to promote easier cleaning in between Masses. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

“There will be no procession through the congregation. We don’t have music for weekday Masses, but on Sunday it will just be the organist and maybe one cantor,” Bowers said. 

Bowers said an announcement will be made to remind the faithful of the revised instructions for Mass, including new Communion protocols, the omission of the Sign of Peace and drop-boxes for offertory collections.

At the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, the parish’s Christian service ministry is recruiting volunteers to make facemasks for anyone who doesn’t bring one, said Paula Dixon, the parish’s pastoral associate. Shrine will open its doors for the first time tomorrow for its 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Masses.

“As people come in, there will be signs indicating they are to keep six feet apart as they approach going into the church,” Dixon said. “At the reception desk, there will be a bin with facemasks in zip-lock bags for those who don’t have a mask.”

Dixon said the parish’s St. Therese Ladies Guild has been busy making the masks, combining efforts with the St. Vincent de Paul guild to make more than 1,000 face coverings for parishioners.

A Cistercian nun uses hand sanitizer as she arrives for prayer at St. Marienthal Abbey during the coronavirus pandemic in Ostritz, Germany, on April 8. (Matthias Rietschel, Reuters | CNS photo)

“We had an elastic shortage, but some just came in last week, so next week we’ll have more material for people to pick up,” Dixon said.

After each Mass, parish staff and volunteers will thoroughly clean the church, so parishioners should not expect to linger, Dixon said. 

St. Joseph Parish in Trenton will celebrate a public Mass at 11 a.m. tomorrow, but in the school gymnasium, said Fr. Stephen Rooney, St. Joseph’s pastor. 

“After hours of deliberation, we decided it was best for us to have Mass in the gymnasium of the school,” Fr. Rooney said in a Facebook video to parishioners. “The principal reason being that after each Mass, the space has to be sanitized, and that is difficult in church with the carpet.”

Parishioners without a mask will not be permitted into the building, Fr. Rooney added.

All parishioners attending Mass will be required to wear a facemask and maintain at least six feet of distance between one another, except for families of the same household. (Naomi Vrazo | Detroit Catholic)

Masses at St. Joseph will still be livestreamed, Fr. Rooney said — as all parishes have been encouraged to continue — on Saturdays and Tuesdays, and daily Mass times will be staggered between 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. to serve people with various work schedules.

As parishes open back up, pastors and staffs are asking parishioners to remain prudent and patient.

“Typically, Shrine does eight Masses on the weekend, between the Saturday vigils and Sunday Masses, but we’ll be adding one more Mass to space it out,” Dixon said. “That means we are asking people not to mingle around so we have time for cleaning.”

While parishes aren’t sure how many people to expect during the first day back, others are looking forward to a “dry run” before weekend liturgies resume in earnest. 

“We don’t know on a given day how many people will be here, given that we are a parish with a lot of visitors,” said Bowers, of Old St. Mary’s. “We’re not anticipating having to turn people away, but if need be, we have talked about having the front doors open so people can watch from the vestibule. 

“We know everyone is excited, and hopefully everyone will take the changes in stride with good manners as they return,” Bowers said.