Parishes Prepared to Safely Welcome Back Parishioners to Public Masses


By Tony DeGol

Gardeners probably would not mind some rain this weekend, but Father Joe Nale is hoping for dry and comfortable weather – at least on Saturday afternoon.

As public Masses resume at most parishes, the pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish in South Fork and Saint Bartholomew Parish in Wilmore is offering an outdoor liturgy this Saturday at 4:00 p.m. at Saint Bartholomew.

Typically, Father Nale would celebrate Saturday vigil Masses inside both parishes, but decided in favor of one outdoor gathering.

The idea came to him after realizing that some parishioners may not be comfortable being indoors amid lingering concerns over COVID-19.

“People can sit where they want,” Father Nale mentioned of the outdoor Masses. “We’re going to have a sound system set up so people can hear from a distance. I thought I would try this for a couple of weeks. The feedback has been positive.”

The Sunday morning Mass schedule at both parishes will resume indoors as usual this weekend – 9:00 a.m. at Saint Bartholomew and 10:30 a.m. at Most Holy Trinity.

Of course another outdoor option is the usual Sunday Mass at the Our Lady of the Alleghenies Shrine in Loretto, sponsored by the Basilica of Saint Michael the Archangel. Outdoor Masses will resume at the Shrine beginning this Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and continue through Labor Day Weekend.

In preparation for the resumption of Masses, parishes are informing parishioners of specific guidelines for their worship site. There are some universal directives from Bishop Mark for all to follow at every location, including:

  • Masks must be worn.
  • Social distancing must be observed at all times.
  • There should be no hand-shaking during the sign of peace nor at any other time.
  • The Precious Blood will be not offered until further notice.

The faithful are strongly encouraged to receive Holy Communion by hand during this time, rather than on the tongue.

Anyone who is sick is asked to stay home.

For the elderly, vulnerable, and anyone else uncomfortable returning to church, Bishop Mark has waived the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days until further notice. The live broadcast of the Proclaim! Sunday Mass from Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown airs every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. on WATM ABC 23 and is rebroadcast every Sunday at 9:00 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband channel 9. Some parishes are continuing to offer live-streaming or recorded Masses.

Per the Bishop’s directives, collection baskets will not be passed. Parishes have been instructed to have a container at the door into which parishioners may drop their contribution. Online giving in encouraged during this time, or the faithful may mail their weekly offertory to their parish or drop it off.

At Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Altoona, the regular weekend Mass schedule is resuming, but liturgies will be celebrated in the parish center until further notice, not in the church.

“This will allow us to accommodate at least 80 individuals, while the church would limit us to 32,” explained the Pastor, Father Brian Saylor. “While it may not be ideal, I know it can work because it’s not about the building, but what we gather there for that’s important.”

Parishioners will also have the option of listening to Mass from the Saint Rose parking lots. Father Saylor purchased an FM broadcaster, which will allow the sound to be broadcast directly into car stereos.

The parish will also continue to make the Eucharist available at 12:30 p.m. on Sundays for those who want to watch the Proclaim! TV Mass and then receive Communion.

As noted previously, each parish is providing specific instructions for parishioners to ease the return. While things may look different from one faith community to the next, all share a common vision.

“My guiding principal is to allow the largest number of people to participate in the safest way possible,” noted Father Saylor.

The goal of safety is especially important as the Church strives to protect those who could be the most susceptible to the coronavirus, Father Nale emphasized.

“This is all about erring on the side of caution,” he added.

[Photo: The Basile family of Resurrection Parish in Johnstown is ready to return to public Masses.]