After 11 weeks without public liturgies during the pandemic, a handful of local parishes were able to offer outdoor Masses for some of their parishioners the weekend of May 30–31.
“Obviously, we still don’t have everyone here. But we’re here nonetheless, glorifying and worshipping God even in the midst of a torrential downpour,” Father Nick Wichert, pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Bothell, told the 70-plus parishioners who gathered for the Pentecost vigil Mass.
Under new rules announced by Gov. Jay Inslee May 27, outdoor Masses can be held with up to 100 people in attendance, with physical distancing in place. In counties that have entered Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan, parishes also have the option of celebrating indoor Masses with 25 percent occupancy or 50 people, whichever is less.
At Church of the Assumption in Bellingham, parishioners who gathered outdoors “were just super happy to have Mass,” said Father Jeffrey Moore, priest administrator, who offered four weekend Masses. “I felt good because I knew I was doing the right thing for my parishioners,” he added.
Parishes had to meet a lengthy list of requirements from the state, as well as the archdiocese. It required a lot of work for parish staffs to get their detailed safety plans together and approved by the archdiocese in the couple of days before the weekend, not to mention figuring out the logistics of where to place and protect the altar and how to seat people with the required physical distancing.
“Setting up an outdoor Mass is really hard to do, especially with any dignity or reverence,” Father Moore said. And getting approval to celebrate Masses on such a short timeline “was definitely a team effort,” he said. “The staff made a lot of significant sacrifices to get things done.”
More than a dozen additional parishes have been approved by the archdiocese to offer Masses the weekend of June 6–7.
Rain didn’t dampen spirits
Father Nick Wichert, pastor of St. Brendan Parish in Bothell, celebrates the Pentecost vigil Mass in a downpour on May 30. Photo: Courtesy St. Brendan Parish
At St. Brendan’s, the rain that fell during every one of the weekend Masses didn’t dampen the experience of being back in community after weeks of livestreaming Mass.
“Not having people there for the Masses, there’s just something that’s missing,” Father Wichert said. “Having people back … was a gift.”
St. Brendan set up its worship space in the parking lot, against the school building. Between the 6-foot awning next to the building and the pop-up canopies parishioners provided, “everybody had cover,” Father Wichert said. Parishioners were excited to be there despite the rain, he added.
At Assumption, a covered walkway in front of the gym provided some cover for the worship space set up in the parish courtyard, but parishioners were asked to bring umbrellas, Father Moore said.
Before beginning the May 30 Vigil Mass, Father Moore told parishioners “it’s an excellent test of all those resolutions we’ve been making over the last three months — ‘Lord, if only I could have Mass again.’ Well, here we are, this is what we’re doing for Mass again,” he said.
Parishioners observe COVID-19 physical distancing requirements during a weekday Mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish in Bremerton. Father Derek Lappe, the pastor, resumed public Masses the weekend of May 30–31. The parish is allowed to have indoor Masses, with a limited number of parishioners, because its county is in Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Of the seven parishes celebrating Masses, only one was allowed to have Masses inside its church building — Our Lady Star of the Sea in Bremerton is in Kitsap County, which is in Phase 2. All four of the parish’s weekend Masses were full; public Masses are being offered at the church every day, according to the parish website.
Reservations, face masks and bring your own chair
For those attending Mass, there were many changes — starting with the requirement to make a reservation and wear a face mask. Both Assumption and St. Brendan asked parishioners to bring their own chairs if possible, to cut down on the number of parish-provided chairs that had to be sanitized between Masses.
Under the archdiocesan guidelines, “Mass is a lot shorter and the homily is shorter,” Father Wichert said. The presentation of the gifts and the sign of peace aren’t being done, and singing by the congregation is discouraged, to reduce the possibility of spreading the coronavirus. St. Brendan’s cantor sang with a microphone from an open window inside the school building, to provide the required 30-foot distancing for singers (choirs aren’t allowed).
Distribution of Communion comes after the final blessing, and both Father Moore and Father Wichert took Communion directly to parishioners at their seats, rather than having them process in a line. It allowed parishioners to maintain distancing and have an opportunity for quiet prayer after receiving the Eucharist.
Outdoor Masses likely to continue
Although the resumption of public Masses was the first time the two priests gathered with their parishioners to celebrate the Eucharist, both Father Moore and Father Wichert have been present to their parishioners in other ways during the pandemic.<
For instance, Father Moore has been traveling to neighborhoods within the parish boundaries, bringing Communion to those who request it, and Father Wichert has been available in the St. Brendan church building for more than two hours most days, hearing confessions and listening to those who just need to talk to someone.
Both priests said their parishes may continue outdoor Masses for a while, even when their counties move into Phase 2, because fewer people could attend Mass under stricter capacity requirements for indoor services.
The dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation is still in place, and those in vulnerable groups or who are ill should stay home for the time being. But as COVID-19 restrictions loosen and more people have the opportunity to come to Mass rather than watch a livestream, Father Wichert expressed hope that Catholics “realize the importance of attending Mass in person, of being present at the sacrifice of the Mass.”
Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: firstname.lastname@example.org.