May 15, 2020

Plan announced to reopen churches, resume public celebration of sacraments

Worshipers take part in a Mass celebrated on July 20, 2017, for members of Legatus, an organization for Catholic business leaders, at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. On May 8, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson announced a plan to allow for the phased and safe reopening of churches and the celebration of the Mass and other sacraments across central and southern Indiana. When the celebration of Mass resumes in the archdiocese, seating will be limited in a continued effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. (File submitted photo by Katie Rutter)

Worshipers take part in a Mass celebrated on July 20, 2017, for members of Legatus, an organization for Catholic business leaders, at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. On May 8, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson announced a plan to allow for the phased and safe reopening of churches and the celebration of the Mass and other sacraments across central and southern Indiana. When the celebration of Mass resumes in the archdiocese, seating will be limited in a continued effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Submitted file photo by Katie Rutter)

By Sean Gallagher

For the first time in almost two months, churches in central and southern Indiana are beginning to open for the faithful for private prayer, devotions and the sacrament of penance.

In the coming days, a phased resumption of the public celebration of the Mass and other sacraments will begin in archdiocesan parishes.

The March 17 closure of churches and suspension of public worship across Indiana was implemented as part of the broader societal effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson announced the plan to reopen churches and resume public worship in a May 8 letter and plan sent to pastors and parish coordinators and posted on the archdiocesan website.

“While we continue to take great care and utilize the recommended precautions,” he said in the letter, “we will soon begin the gradual process of reopening our churches and resuming the celebration of the sacraments publicly.”

The dates in the archdiocesan plan for the phased reopening churches and resuming the public celebration of the sacraments can vary locally depending on a parish’s ability to ensure a safe worship environment and specific county-level stay-at-home orders.

Here are the phases of the plan:

• Phase one—Starting on or after May 13, churches may reopen for private prayer, devotions and the sacrament of penance.

• Phase two—Starting on or after May 19, weekday Masses, weddings and funerals within Mass, postponed memorial Masses for those who have died and the anointing of the sick for those who are seriously ill but may not be in imminent danger of death may resume. (Presently, graveside services, funerals and weddings outside Mass with 10 people or less have been permitted.)

• Phase three—Starting on or after the weekend of May 23-24, Sunday Masses, the Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults and first Communion may resume.

All people 65 or older and those who are sick or who have medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to the coronavirus should remain at home.

Archbishop Thompson has extended the dispensation for the obligation to participate in Mass on Sundays to all the faithful until Aug. 15.

This extension is motivated, in part by the continued need of social distancing, which will result in limiting the seating capacity of churches. The plan offers parishes a variety of ways to spread out attendance at Masses. Social distancing will also affect the procedure of distributing Communion.

Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization, helped develop the plan. Several pastoral leaders, theologians and health care experts, both from within and beyond the archdiocese, were consulted in the development process.

“It will be regularly monitored, enhanced, clarified and added to as we gain more knowledge and experience,” Father Beidelman said. “It’s a living plan, not set in stone. As we have the experience of our first time opening churches again, beginning to celebrate weekday Masses and then Masses for Sunday, we’re going to learn a lot of things—what’s going well and what works. And we’ll learn about what doesn’t work that we need to change.”

Because of the danger that the coronavirus presents for people 65 or older or with complicating medical conditions, distribution of Communion outside of Mass, including to the homebound or those in hospitals or nursing homes remains discontinued until further notice unless it is given as Viaticum to one who is in imminent danger of death.

Parishes are encouraged to continue livestreaming their local celebration of the Mass. Videos of Sunday and weekday Masses celebrated at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis will continue to be posted daily on the archdiocesan website.

Father Beidelman encouraged Catholics across central and southern Indiana to keep in mind the continued sacrifice of those people who stay at home for the protection of themselves and others, to “surround them in their prayer” and “if they’re able to receive holy Communion at Mass, perhaps they can consider periodically offering their Communion for someone they know who cannot yet come to Mass and ask God to send them those graces.”

This time when Father Beidelman has not been able to lead the worship of the members of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral Parish, where he serves as rector, has taught him spiritual lessons.

“I’ve become a little bit more at ease with not being in control, because so much of this—the timeline, the scope, the conditions we have to live under—are out of our control,” he said. “I believe that God is inviting us to place ourselves in the arms of the Lord, and ask for the grace to accept it and to thrive and flourish in the experience that we’re in at this moment.

“That can be true whether we’re under a stay-at-home order, or whether we’re moving about freely and living life more normally.”

Father Beidelman is now looking forward to gathering with his parishioners for the celebration of the Eucharist.

“I can only imagine how emotional it will be for people to return to this gift of God,” he said. “It will be a great joy for me because the celebration of Mass and the reception of holy Communion, the Eucharist, is as high as it gets for us on this side of the grave. It is the source of our communion with God and one another and it is the summit, the apex, of our lives as Catholics.” †

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