‘Truly good news’: Archbishop Etienne explains new rules for public Masses

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in Local
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne explains the new protocol for receiving Communion when parishes to return to public celebration of the Mass. Photo: Courtesy Archdiocese of Seattle Archbishop Paul D. Etienne explains the new protocol for receiving Communion when parishes to return to public celebration of the Mass. Photo: Courtesy Archdiocese of Seattle

SEATTLE – The governor’s May 27 announcement allowing public Masses to resume, with restrictions, is “truly good news,” Archbishop Paul D. Etienne said in a May 29 video message to Western Washington Catholics.

“We are grateful for … these advances in our efforts to keep this virus under control,” that have allowed Masses to resume as early as this weekend, May 30-31, the archbishop said.

A few parishes in Western Washington plan to celebrate public Masses on Pentecost Sunday, May 31, after meeting the new guidelines from the state and the archdiocese for returning to public liturgies.

Archbishop Etienne also expressed gratitude for local Catholics’ patience and perseverance “in faith and in prayer” during these months of COVID-19.

“Catholics have been more active than ever during this time of the coronavirus,” he said, engaged in efforts that demonstrate “what it really means to be Catholic”: priests have been anointing the sick, parishioners have been helping feed the hungry and care for the homeless and homebound, schools have continued their ministry with remote learning, many people have prayed in solidarity and many other are making masks for those on the front lines of the pandemic.

Slow return to public Masses

Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan, 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 plan, parishes also have the option of indoor Masses with 25 percent occupancy or 50 people, whichever is fewer.

 “Not every parish will be able to resume the public celebration of Mass this weekend,” Archbishop Etienne said in the video, explaining that a “very comprehensive planning and training” is required at each parish. Permission is given after parishes submit reopening plans that reflect the ability to safely gather for public celebration of the Mass. Some parishes won’t have the resources they need, including volunteer assistance, to open under the current requirements, the archbishop noted.

In other dioceses around the country that have resumed Masses in the past month, about 30-70% of parishes have reopened, Archbishop Etienne said, and he expects a similar experience here.

“So please continue to be patient,” he said, noting that parishes will continue livestreaming Masses and the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass continues. “I invite you to please return to public worship only when you feel comfortable doing so,” he added.

Changes at Mass

When Catholics are able to return to their parishes for Mass, they will be required to wear face coverings and stay 6 feet away from people outside their households. Parishioners will receive Communion after the final blessing of Mass, Archbishop Etienne said, mainly for proper sanitation of the minister of Communion and those receiving Communion.

“All of the other elements of the Mass will have been validly, properly, reverently celebrated,” he explained.

Parishioners will be asked to register for Mass, primarily for the purpose of contact tracing in case there is a flareup of the virus. “So please cooperate with this measure as well,” the archbishop said.

Protocols and guidelines will be available on the archdiocese’s website and on parish websites, and the primary components of the guidelines will be posted at churches and outdoor Mass sites, the archbishop said.

He asked Catholics to continue praying for each other, and for those “who are still under an even worse situation worldwide than we are ourselves. Let’s continue to pray for the sick, for the vulnerable, let’s pray for their healing.”

And, the archbishop said, “let’s continue to show our gratitude that these past couple of months now are behind us. Let’s work hard to make sure that this virus is continually contained so that we don’t lose any ground.”

Read the letter from the state's bishops about the reopening of Masses.