Parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia resumed public Masses the weekend of June 7-8 after an absence of two and a half months due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. The experience felt like “coming home” for many area faithful, according to parish leaders.
While attendees’ mouths were covered with face masks, Maria Richardson from St. Maria Goretti Parish in Hatfield was taken aback by the joy beaming from their eyes as she entered the narthex of the church. She stopped to take a picture of the special moment.
“All I can say is praise God,” she said of the weekend.
Richardson is the parish’s director of family faith formation, religious education and parish services, and is counted among countless priests, parish staff and volunteers who worked for weeks in advance to prepare for the much-awaited weekend.
It was “really emotional here,” said parochial vicar Father Kyle Adamczyk from St. Andrew Parish, Newtown, who noted many parishioners shed tears of joy.
After proceeding to the presider’s chair for his first Mass with a congregation in nearly three months, he admits tears came to his own eyes as he looked at the congregation. It was so good to see his parish family back home, he said.
“Parishioners have been so supportive through all this,” Father Adamczyk said.
Public Masses in the archdiocese were suspended since March 18, a precaution to protect the well-being of others and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Most parishes have resumed Sunday and daily Masses with churches remaining under 50% capacity, according to the archdiocesan coronavirus task force.
The faithful continue to be dispensed of the obligation to attend Mass Sundays and holy days of obligation. The archdiocese and its 217 parishes continue to encourage those who are sick or at high risk of contracting COVID-19 to stay home and observe the Lord’s day from there.
Many parishes are continuing to livestream Masses, a practice with which Father Gus Puleo from St. Patrick Parish in Norristown agrees.
St. Patrick is the parishioners’ home and they need to be connected, he said, adding many children are eagerly waiting to hear updates on when other sacraments will take place. That information and other announcements will be offered at the end of Mass via livestream.
Parishioners at St. Patrick’s who did come to Mass were “ecstatic” and the resumed Masses were a “success,” noted Father Puleo.
Four of the five Masses celebrated at St. Patrick’s had 25-30 participants. The noon Mass, celebrated in Spanish and normally packing the 600-person capacity church, had 80 attendees.
Referencing St. Teresa of Calcutta, Father Puleo said the people had a “thirst” for the Eucharist and for Mass, which he believes fortifies the priests who serve them.
Father James Cox from Annunciation B.V.M. Parish, Havertown, said he could see the joy in people’s faces as they received holy Communion. The parish’s masses varied between 50 and 70 participants, according to Father Cox.
“The passion of the people to receive the Eucharist is inspiring,” said Father Michael Gerlach, pastor of SS. Simon and Jude, West Chester.
Referencing the weekend on the following Monday, Father Gerlach said, “Yesterday was a wonderful day. I’m a happy man.” The gentle joy people experience is a fruit of worship, he added.
The first weekend of public Masses came after weeks of preparation, led by an archdiocesan coronavirus task force with the goal of restoring parish life after the pandemic. Spearheading an initiative titled “Arise: Restoring Catholic Life after the Pandemic,” archdiocesan leaders offer guidance to pastors, parish leaders and all area faithful.
(Resources from Arise can be found at http://archphila.org/arise/)
Certain guidelines are in place for all parishes, in line with CDC and archdiocesan directives. Parish leaders can tailor certain logistics to meet their needs.
The archdiocese is following CDC guidelines for sanitation, while parishes decided how best to carry them out.
St. Andrew Parish, with the largest population in the archdiocese, hired a group to sanitize the church. At SS. Simon and Jude and St. Patrick, parish staff along with several volunteers sanitized after each Mass.
At St. Maria Goretti, teen-aged parishioners volunteered to prepare the church for the first weekend, and to sanitize the church after every following Mass for the upcoming weekends.
With an understanding of the seriousness of the task, the teens have embraced the responsibility that has shown them they are an important part of the parish, according to Richardson.
Although serious, she said the teens have been enjoying themselves as they embrace service with their friends.
“They make everything fun,” Richardson said.
In addition, a group of senior citizens who felt comfortable attending daily Mass also volunteered to clean the church after these Masses.
Many people attending Mass felt safe and were impressed at the level of organization, said Richardson, which she thinks will encourage others who are able to join next week.
There was a gentle joy, in spite of all that is going on in the world, said Father Gerlach.
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