The celebration of public Mass will resume in Catholic parishes of the Philadelphia Archdiocese on the weekend of June 6-7, the archdiocese announced Friday night, May 22.
Public Masses were suspended in mid-March in the 217 parishes of the archdiocese and most other dioceses in the United States to halt the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced late Friday afternoon that some of the 66 counties of the state would move into the green phase, with some social restrictions, on May 29.
All the remaining counties including those in the archdiocese would move from the red phase into the yellow phase, with more restrictions as a precaution, on June 5.
Counties now in the red phase with stringent stay-at-home restrictions include Philadelphia and Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Northampton and Montgomery counties.
According to state guidelines, large gatherings of more than 25 people are still prohibited in the yellow phase.
The statement by the archdiocese did not address church congregation sizes specifically, but more details are expected to emerge in coming days. The archdiocese now is “actively working with clergy” to help prepare them for the resumption of liturgies in two weeks.
The decisions by the archdiocese to dispense the obligation for Catholics to attend Sunday Mass and suspend public Mass were “always intended to be temporary,” the statement read, and “were made out of necessity for the common good and in recognition of the fact that all of us share a responsibility for the preservation of public health, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
But most Catholic churches did not close, and have remained open daily for private prayer and for sacraments such as penance, baptism and wedding and funeral Masses, limited to individuals or very small groups.
Priests also continue to celebrate private Masses for the good of the church, and nearly 100 parishes offer daily or Sunday Masses livestreamed or prerecorded for online viewing.
“During this unprecedented time, the archdiocese has made every effort to provide for the spiritual needs of the faithful as well as the temporal needs of those who benefit from its many charitable works,” the statement read.
Archdiocesan administrators had been consulting with public health officials since the impact of the coronavirus began to be felt in late February and worsened in March.
With new cases of the virus dropping statewide and restrictions that had kept people physically separated and absent from the Mass easing, archdiocesan administrators have been working with officials to ensure that resumption of public liturgies “takes place within the context of state-approved guidelines,” the statement read.
Wolf defended the restrictions on public gatherings including for houses of worship and most businesses in the commonwealth.
“We know not only that we succeeded in slowing case growth, but that our actions, our collective decisions to stay at home and avoid social contact — we know that saved lives,” he said. “My stay-at-home order did exactly what it was intended to do: It saved lives and it bought us valuable time.”
The archdiocese had already been planning in recent weeks for resumption of public sacramental life in the parishes with a new initiative geared to help people reintegrate into an active, in-person engagement with parish life.
More information on the program titled “Arise!: Restoring Catholic Life After the Pandemic,” can be found on its website, ArchPhila.org/Arise.
“All of us are eager to open the doors of the church wide for the celebration of the holy Eucharist,” the archdiocese said.
The news no doubt will raise a chorus of thanksgiving across the region by Catholic communities eager to share their faith again after what will have been 11 weeks apart. Deo gratias!
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