Things won’t be back to normal for a while, but when the church doors open, we’ll need to brace for changes

As we approach our eighth weekend without public Masses in the Archdiocese of Detroit, the fatigue of not being united around the altar, receiving Holy Communion, and seeing each other in church is certainly beginning to wear on us. 

It is a tremendous sacrifice for us to forgo gathering in this way. But we have done it for the common good. As Catholics, we are committed to serving our brothers and sisters in our communities in varied ways because, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught, “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ” (Gaudium et Spes, 1).

Yet, as people of faith, we long to return to our churches and gather once again in person for Mass. The desire of the disciples to be united to the offering of Jesus to the Father in Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not diminished during these days. It will be a while, however, before things return to our pre-quarantine days. Just as our civic leaders and public health officials have set a phased, slow and steady approach to returning back to “normal,” so, too, must we prepare. 

Here are five things we should be prepared for over the spring and into the summer:

1. Wearing a mask 

We hate wearing our masks. It’s not comfortable and it makes us less ready to engage others. But it is necessary. Masks save lives, especially because COVID-19 is so highly communicable. All the faithful at Mass will be asked or perhaps even required to wear a mask. It does not have to be an official N-95 mask worn by surgeons, but some homemade covering will become standard during Mass. 

2. Social distancing in church 

Our parish communities are a great good that we want to preserve. Yet, social distancing helps mitigate the spread of the disease. There will be clear protocols that will change where you can sit, how you can greet people, and how to receive Holy Communion. You will need to keep six feet of distance between anyone not in your household for the foreseeable future at church.

3. Fewer people

The dispensation for the requirement to attend Sunday Mass will likely be extended. Those at higher risk — the elderly, the immune-compromised and hospital workers — will probably need to be the last to come back to church. There might be creative solutions to allow people in these categories to attend Mass with a decreased risk of contamination (like grocery stores with hours specific to these populations) but it will be a while before we will be able to see everyone we are used to seeing at Mass.

4. Mistakes and imperfection 

None of us have lived through a pandemic before. None of us knows exactly how to do this. Priests, ushers, parishioners and the archdiocese will not get every decision correct. We all will need the grace of humility and what Synod 16 identified as “a spirit of cooperation” to get through this together. This means that we all will need saint-like patience or get really good at saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”

5. Continued online presence

The slow and steady return to us all being together means more and more things will continue to be online. We are probably a long way off from coffee and doughnuts or other social gatherings after Mass. Parishes will still provide opportunities for catechesis and engagement in a digital format, and livestream Masses are sure to continue.

Our commitment to the common good of our society is important to keep us safe and to protect those who are most susceptible to the ravages of this virus. It is an act of justice owed to all those with whom we share our society. 

But it is also an opportunity for us to give witness to our care and concern for all. These changes — and certainly others we cannot anticipate yet — remind people that we care about them. We want to show them that we love them so that we can, in due time, proclaim a greater good and a greater love for them. 

As Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said at the beginning of this quarantine, our lives during these days and the days of our return are still about unleashing the Gospel