NORTHAMPTON – The private Mass began over the weekend at Catholic churches across the Pioneer Valley, after being detained for more than two months to stop the spread of COVID-19. And for Arleen Murnane, from Florence, taking communion again is “truly life-giving.”
“Returning is truly indescribable,” said Murnane.
Murnane serves as a counter for Sunday mass at 8 am in the Church of the Sacred Heart, part of the Parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Northampton. A little less than three dozen people gathered in the church for the service, the first of two at the Sacred Heart that day.
The synagogue was among the businesses included in the first phase of the reopening of Governor Charlie Baker on May 18, with those in the Roman Catholic Diocese in Springfield getting the green light from the church to continue their personal mass at 4 pm. on Saturday. Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski ordered all churches in the diocese to close in March to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Springfield diocese serves the counties of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire.
Father Francis Reilly, pastor of St. Parish Elizabeth Ann Seton, said that about 50 people came to the first Mass at the Sacred Heart. Speaking after the first Sunday service, Reilly said the process had proceeded smoothly and expressed satisfaction when seeing people return to church.
“The blood returned to the body,” said Reilly.
A priest at the age of 40, he said that seeing people returning to church was “like a husband who sees his wife returning.”
The bishop has extended his dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, although prospective church visitors are encouraged to say the rosary or watch the Mass remotely if they are not present in person.
Reilly said people who feel they are vulnerable to coronavirus must stay at home.
“We don’t want to do anything to endanger your health,” he said.
Security protocol already exists
Last week, Rozanski was expelled directives to reopen, which states that the parish will be allowed to continue public Mass on Saturday “only if they have given written assurance to the bishop’s office that they have fulfilled all state, city and diocesan guidelines, and received a response giving permission to continue” and noted that some parishes require more time to reopen. Among the guidelines and restrictions strengthened, along with wearing masks and social distance: there was no “peace sign,” there was no fellowship with the trophy (only fellowship at hand), and the direction that the Holy Water fonts must remain blank and closed. .
Sunday Mass at the Sacred Heart features many salvation protocols. Those present at church wear masks and wear hand sanitizers when they enter through doors that remain open throughout the service. Participants who did not come together sat at least 6 feet apart and were taken to their seats by officers. Communion is distributed at the end of the Mass, when people leave.
These steps were carried out in Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Easthampton, although the fellowship was distributed there at a regular point in the ministry; to ensure social distance, billiard noodles along the 6 feet are placed on the bench.
“It’s a little bit unreal with all the security measures that apply,” said Tom Brown, who attended mass at 8:30 a.m. church.
However, Brown, who went to church for Mass every Sunday before the pandemic struck, said that attending Mass again in person “felt very good.”
“It feels like visiting a family member after a long trip,” Brown said.
Over the past few months while personal services have been suspended, both St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Our Lady of the Valley have served parishioners through their streaming services. Ps. Douglas McGonagle, pastor of Our Lady of the Parish Valley, also noted that Our Lady of the Valley has been providing video services for public access television for years.
“They are happy to be back,” McGonagle said. “These are parishioners who attend daily Mass.”
One congregation at the morning Mass in Northampton on Sunday who was not a church visitor before the pandemic was a resident of the city of Mark Anthony Andre, who said, “That’s where I have to be.”
Andre said that he felt compelled to enter the church when he walked past the day before and saw people outside.
“I have to go in, I need it,” Andre said. “And then I’m back here today.”
Ps. Parish vicar, parish vicar in St. Parish Elizabeth Ann Seton, heard the confession under the birch tree in the parking lot of the Church of the Sacred Heart before the Mass on Saturday. Norman will celebrate his first year as pastor next month. Before becoming a priest, he worked as a nurse for around 20 years.
“I feel God moving me from the call to care for the body to the call to care for the soul,” Norman said. “They are very connected.”
Norman said that the security protocol applied to private Masses made him feel as though his old career “had come into force.”
“It’s not new for me to wear a mask and to practice the infectious disease protocol,” he said.
However, he said, the current crisis is not something the church has prepared.
“They don’t teach you how to handle a pandemic in seminary,” he said.
Norman said he had spoken with friends at his former job who had seen much destruction due to the pandemic, especially in nursing homes.
“This is a mixture of gratitude for being here, but the desire to be there and be with the most vulnerable,” he said.
Bera Dunau can be contacted at [email protected]