All pews open as archdiocese lifts COVID-19 restrictions on Masses

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, June 16, 2021

All pews open as archdiocese lifts COVID-19 restrictions on Masses

Parishioners at Holy Angels Parish, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd., celebrated Mass with a full choir and water ritual to bless the new holy water on June 13, 2021. The archdiocese announced the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions before the weekend, which parishes were following since March 2020 due to the pandemic. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Holy Angels pastor Father Andrew Smith Jr., left, blesses the holy water before Deacon Michael Foggie, center, and Deacon Mervin Johnson, right, take it to fill the fonts around the church. Holy water was not permitted under COVID-19 restrictions. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Mervin Johnson takes the holy water to one of the fonts by an entrance at Holy Angels Church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Cantor Michael Hill leads the congregation in song. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Holy Angels pastor Father Andrew Smith Jr. collects the gifts during the offertory. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ian and Michelle Jordon share a father-daughter moment during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the choir sing during Mass. Choirs were prohibited under COVID-19 restrictions. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Eileen Foggie lifts her arms in praise. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Parishioners share the sign of peace. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deacon Michael Foggie distributes Communion during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Deborah Powell sings during the end of Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Staff members and volunteers at parishes around Chicago spent June 10-11 pulling tape off pews to make them available for seating again, removing stickers from floors and refilling baptismal and holy water fonts.

Parishioners could also sing and exchange the sign of peace at Masses beginning June 11. The lifting of restrictions that had been designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 came as the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago entered Restore Illinois Phase 5.

Parishes also could reopen their offices and now can hold social and other events indoors or outdoors.

“We’ve opened up all the pews,” said Father Rob Schultz, pastor of Holy Virgin Martyrs Parish in Schiller Park. “We’re taking the markings off the center aisle for Communion. Singing, I want to let the people know we can sing.”

Schultz said he had already sent an email to parishioners about the changes on the morning of June 10, and he filmed a short video to post on the parish’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page. He asked everyone to make sure their friends and neighbors knew as well.

Most parishioners handled the restrictions over the past 15 months with few complaints, Schultz said.

“It was really that we would do what we had to do,” he said. Still, he expects many people to be pleased that the mask requirement has been lifted.

Jen Daniels, who will assume the role of business manager at St. Mary of Vernon Parish July 1, said staff and volunteers also were preparing the church to welcome people back at full capacity.

“We started yesterday pulling up the tape, taking down the ropes,” Daniels said on June 10. “We’ve notified the volunteers, the eucharistic ministers and the ushers.”

Under the new guidelines, people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 need not wear masks, and parishes do not have to enforce social distancing. People who are not vaccinated, including children under 12, should continue to wear masks and keep their distance from others not in their households.

Parishioners no longer must register in advance to attend Mass, although the archdiocese advised parishes to keep their sign-up systems active in case they must start again. Volunteers who checked to make sure those who showed up to Mass were registered now can help welcome people back to church.

Parishes also can return to having missalettes, hymnals and other worship aids in the pews, and can return to their usual procedures for the collection.

Schultz said it might be a little while before his parishioners see missalettes in the pews. The last time the parish ordered them, parishioners were encouraged to take one home and bring it back and forth for Mass. Those parishioners will keep them, but the next order will go into the pews as they normally did.

Paulist Father Patrick Johnson, associate pastor of Old St. Mary’s Parish, 1500 S. Michigan Ave., said his parish would take the reopening step by step, starting with lifting capacity restrictions June 11 and letting parishioners know they no longer must register in advance.

The baptismal pool and font were refilled by noon June 11, he said.

Asked what he was most happy about, he said, “We’re just looking forward to seeing people.”

Tyrone Pittman, music director at Holy Angels Parish, wrote a special musical setting for the blessing of the holy water and the refilling of the fonts in the church, 615 E. Oakwood Blvd.

The idea, he said, was to help people understand that water symbolizes baptism and life in the Lord.

Valerie Jennings, parish vitality coordinator for Vicariate VI, said people have missed the opportunity to bless themselves with the water since March 2020, and haven’t been able to see the water blessed and the fonts refilled since Easter 2019.

“I think this is absolutely beautiful,” Jennings said, speaking about the ritual setting Pittman composed. “We need to reclaim our rituals.”

“This will be a renewal of my spirit,” Pittman said of the June 13 Mass. “It’s like, if your mother has been away a long time, and you prayed every night together, when she comes back, that feeling the first time you can pray together. … We’ve been missing that one-on-one Christian fellowship, the praying together. I’m grateful for the technology we’ve been able to use so people could watch Mass, but seeing it through a TV screen is not the same as being here.”

Pittman said he knows that some people are hesitant to return to in-person Mass.

“They’re not quite ready yet,” he said. “There’s fear.”

Father Pawel Komperda, associate pastor of Incarnation Parish in Crestwood, said most of his parishioners have gained confidence as the parish has followed the guidelines, lifting restrictions step by step every time the rules changed.

“We have had a very good reopening team from the get-go,” he said. “We had good communications announcing the policies and the procedures, and our parishioners have been very comfortable coming back to church. … People are excited, and people are comfortable.”

He said he saw the most gratitude when the parish was able to completely reopen its 24-hour eucharistic adoration chapel in June. In the beginning of the pandemic, when the restrictions were heaviest, the parish exposed the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance that could be seen through a large window, and people would sit in their cars to pray.

Now that most restrictions have been lifted, he said, it’s important to understand that people still have different levels of comfort.

“If somebody wants to wear a mask, they can wear a mask,” he said. “We still have to be careful, of course. The virus is still out there.”


  • covid-19
  • parishes reopen

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