Catholic Churches in yellow-phase counties to hold in-person mass this weekend

“We’re going to have to be patient with the limitations. People can’t sit in their usual seat and all that stuff.”

  • Alanna Elder

 

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(Shamokin) — Catholics in Union, Snyder, Montour, and Northumberland counties may have the option to attend Mass again beginning this weekend as part of the state’s easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The Rev. Martin Kobos of Mother Cabrini Catholic Church in Shamokin, Northumberland County, said this mass is going to be different from usual.

“We’re going to have to be patient with the limitations,” he said. “People can’t sit in their usual seat and all that stuff.”

The Diocese of Harrisburg recently announced guidelines for parishes in those four counties, which moved to the “yellow” phase of Gov. Wolf’s reopening plan on May 8.

Parishioners are under no obligation to attend Mass if they do not feel comfortable doing so. Those who do attend will have to wear masks and sit at a distance, filling no more than a third of a church’s capacity. Priests are holding communion at the end of Mass and skipping the sign of peace, usually offered as a handshake. Some churches are hiring firms to disinfect the buildings before they open; once they are open, staff and volunteers will clean between each service.

A parishioner prays ahead of a mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer, of the Harrisburg Diocese, at the Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A parishioner prays ahead of a mass celebrated by Bishop Ronald Gainer, of the Harrisburg Diocese, at the Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

“To try to follow all the guidelines is going to be a challenge, there’s no doubt about that,” Kobos said. “There was a discussion to hold off one more week, but in the end, we took a vote, and the vote was to open this weekend.”

In Elysburg, Northumberland County, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary is trying out an outdoor, drive-in mass at 10:30 a.m. after the earlier Sunday service. Parish manager Sheila Olsheski said that will provide more time to clean the building and give people a third option besides going in or staying home.

“This is another alternative for people who have a compromised immune system, or are just not feeling comfortable about being in a setting with a lot of other people yet, or maybe they are not well in other capacities, or they are in the high risk group,” she said.

Four Ukrainian Catholic churches in Northumberland and Bradford counties will also hold liturgies using the same precautions. The Rev. Mykola Ivanov, who leads two of those churches in Shamokin and Marion Heights, said he is looking forward to having parishioners back in the church.

A parishioner Celebrate Communion at the Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A parishioner Celebrate Communion at the Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick in Harrisburg, Pa., Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, three days after the release of an extensive report detailing sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests throughout Pennsylvania.

“It’s different when you preach to the camera and your cantor and when you preach to your congregation in a church filled with people,” he said.

One church in Centralia is tentatively planning to open. The Rev. Michael Hutsko of Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary said it depends on what happens with the county commissioners’ push to move Columbia County to yellow despite the governor’s order. If the county goes forward with those plans, he said he will hold public liturgy this weekend.

Even churches that are reopening plan to continue their live-streamed masses, perhaps for a long time. Ivanov said he wants to make use of the equipment his church purchased to be able to livestream liturgies and post them to YouTube. “It is kind of expensive,” he said, plus, “this way our parishioners who are homebound can have access to the services.”

 

WITF’s Alanna Elder is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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