Parishes Taking Unique Steps to Safely Accommodate Faithful at Christmas Masses


By Tony DeGol 

The clergy at Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College might want to add Wheaties to their Christmas Eve breakfast menu.  

As the largest faith community in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, the pastor, Father Neil Dadey, is taking steps to ensure the parish can safely accommodate what could be a large amount of Christmas Mass attendees.  

The plan involves him and the parochial vicar, Father Jonathan Dickson, potentially celebrating 14 Masses in less than 24 hours.  

Masses at OLV will be offered at 2:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve and at 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. on Christmas Day, according to Father Dadey.  

Faithful at any of those times should report to the church first, Father Dadey directed. If and when the church reaches its limit with regard to physical distancing, attendees will then be directed to the school gym, where the Liturgy will also be celebrated at that time.   

As a result, both priests at OLV could be celebrating Masses simultaneously at both sites during all of the scheduled worship times.  

Normally, the parish schedule contains half of the Christmas Masses that it is offering this year.  

“Being the largest parish in the diocese and having overflow crowds at every Mass normally, we just want to make sure we have space available for everybody who will come,” noted Father Dadey. “We will send people to the gym only when the church is filled. If we don’t need the gym, we won’t use it.”  

This year, Bishop Mark directed pastors to schedule Christmas vigil Masses as early as 2:00 p.m., if they choose, in addition to their usual vigils that would normally occur at 4:00 p.m. or later.  

The Bishop continues to waive the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Masses because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the diocese has expanded its Proclaim! TV Christmas Mass schedule at Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown this year. Bishop Mark will celebrate the Liturgy on Christmas Eve at 7:00 p.m., which will air live on WWCP FOX 8. The Christmas Day Mass will air at Noon on WATM ABC 23 with the Very Reverend James Crookston, Rector, as celebrant.  

Realizing that some will choose to attend Mass in person, other parishes in Altoona-Johnstown are joining Our Lady of Victory in thinking outside the box to comply with distancing guidelines.  

Our Lady of the Alleghenies Parish in Lilly is taking advantage of its two worship sites this Christmas.   

The pastor, Father Matthew Reese, invited the parish’s former pastor, Father Kevin Queally, TOR, to celebrate a 4:00 p.m. Mass at the chapel while Father Reese simultaneously celebrates the Liturgy at the church.   

“We’ll be able to spread the crowd out a little bit at that Mass time, which is very popular,” Father Reese said.  

The parish is also offering a 2:00 p.m. Mass at the chapel on Christmas Eve and Midnight Mass at the church. Christmas Day Masses will be celebrated at 8:00 a.m. at the chapel and 11:00 a.m. at the church.  

Those who wish to attend the 2:00 p.m. Mass or either of the 4:00 p.m. Masses must obtain a ticket at the Rectory office in advance.  

“It’s a matter of crowd control because those three are the ones most popularly attended,” added Father Reese.  

At Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Altoona, the pastor, Father Brian Saylor, is asking parishioners to sign up for the Mass they wish to attend by calling the rectory or reserving a spot electronically.  

Weeks ago, Father Saylor surveyed his faithful with regard to their most desired Christmas Mass times. Instead of the usual Midnight Mass, parishioners opted for a 3:00 p.m. Mass on Christmas Eve in addition to the usual 5:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. offerings. A 9:00 a.m. Mass will also be celebrated on Christmas Day, as usual.  

Christmas Masses at Saint Rose of Lima will be in the parish center, which is where weekend Masses have been celebrated since the return of public Liturgies in June.  

“With spacing issues, the parish center offers us a better ability to fit more people in and to space them out, so we’ve been working on how we’re going to decorate to give it a feel for Christmas even though it’s going to be in the parish center and not in the church,” explained Father Saylor.  

As with all Masses and other church activities these days, all clergy and faithful should wear masks and practice physical distancing at Christmas Liturgies. Anyone who is sick or exhibiting any symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend Mass.  

Click HERE for a schedule of Christmas Masses at parishes in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Since some parishes are requiring reservations or advance tickets, faithful are urged to please consult parishes in advance of deciding which Mass to attend. 

Click HERE for a schedule of TV and radio Mass broadcasts. 

[Photo: Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College decorated for Christmas in 2019. OLV is one of many parishes thinking outside of the box to safely accommodate Christmas Mass attendees amid a pandemic.]