Archdiocese: Parishes can begin to reopen for Sunday, daily Masses

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Parishioners sit socially distanced in pews waiting to go to confession at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Glenview on May 30, 2020. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

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The process of reopening parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago is not simple, nor is it short.

Parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago can begin opening for Sunday and daily Masses June 6, under guidelines released June 1.

“Our hope is that it’s more of a soft opening so that people get used to all the protocols and the guidelines,” said Auxiliary Bishop Ronald Hicks, archdiocesan vicar general. “We’re asking that our opening is slow, it’s gradual, it’s incremental. We don’t want to do things fast. We want to things right.”

The Phase 2 openings allow parishes to have Masses with no more than 15% to 20% of their usual church capacity — starting with no more than 50 people — all wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Parishes must set up online reservation or registration programs, both to make sure attendance is limited and to help public health officials with contact tracing if someone later becomes ill.

Those records are to be destroyed 14 days after each Mass if they haven’t been needed.

Things like wearing masks, washing and sanitizing hands frequently, and keeping track of who’s been where are safety measures mandatory in all kinds of environments, not just church, Bishop Hicks said.

“This is a cultural shift,” he said. “Not only for our church but for our entire society. For the most part, people are eager to cooperate. They want to get back in church, but they want to do so safely.”

To open for Masses under Phase 2, parishes must have first been open for Phase 1 liturgies or Phase 1a private prayer and eucharistic adoration at least three times.

The guidelines were developed in coordination with all the dioceses in Illinois by a task force of archdiocesan leaders who consulted public health officials, infectious diseases specialists and diocesan bishops to figure out how to provide sacraments to the faithful as safely as possible.

Even so, parishes have been told to remind parishioners that even with safety precautions in place, there is some risk to attending even a small gathering at church, and Catholics are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays or holy days of obligation.

Parishes also are encouraged to continue livestreaming Masses for people who cannot attend, and may consider celebrating Mass with the congregation in their cars in the parking lot, although that is not supposed to be the norm.

In Phase 1 — which includes the sacraments of reconciliation, infant baptism, matrimony and funeral Masses — and Phase 1a — which allows for personal prayer and eucharistic adoration, the number of worshippers or guests in the church was capped at 10, although that number can go up as Phase 2 is implemented.

Nearly 100 parishes were certified for Phase 1 by the time they were allowed to begin opening May 23, and more than half of the parishes in the archdiocese had that certification by June 1, Bishop Hicks said.

All guidelines and procedures for certification are available at The website includes a recording of an hourlong webinar that covers the main areas, as well as links to materials about setup, managing traffic in the church and cleanup, as well as conflict resolution.

Parish volunteers are to use tape to show people where they may and may not sit, where they may line up, and which direction to walk in the aisles. They are also to open doors ahead of time so that nobody else has to touch door handles and open windows to help air circulate.

For sacraments where the priest or deacon must approach the faithful, such as distributing Communion at a wedding or funeral Mass or baptizing a child, the celebrant must wear a plastic face shield or mask and goggles, or there must be some other kind of impermeable barrier.

Those receiving Communion must sanitize their hands when they are two people — 12 feet — from the celebrant and approach with their mask on. After receiving Communion in one hand, they are to step at least 6 feet to the side, use their other hand to loosen their masks, consume the host and replace their masks before returning to their seats.

“I think sometimes when people go to church, we’re kind of on autopilot,” Bishop Hicks said. “That’s going to change.”

“This is ultimately an act of hospitality,” said Father Kenneth Simpson, archdiocesan vicar for professional and pastoral development of priests, in the webinar. “It might seem extreme, even severe, but it’s an assurance of our care for the well-being of our parishioners and beyond.”

All areas of the church and furnishings used by the faithful must be cleaned and sanitized between uses. That means, for example, that a volunteer must use disinfectant to wipe down chairs used for confession between penitents.

Bishop Hicks said the archdiocese wants to welcome people back to the eucharistic table.

“There’s really a holy hunger there and a longing to reopen, but we have to make sure that it’s safe,” he said.


  • parishes
  • coronavirus
  • covid-19

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