WHEELING – Roman Catholic churches throughout West Virginia will welcome parishioners this weekend after missing more than two months from the Mass.
All parishes in Wheeling-Charleston diocese were authorized this week by Bishop Mark Brennan to restart church services directly starting today after proposing a reopening plan to keep people safe in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The suspension of the Mass is difficult for the faithful and our priests, who devote their lives to carrying the sacrament to others,” Bishop Bishop Tim’s spokesman said Friday. “While we look forward to the resumption of Mass this weekend, we do it with all security in mind.”
The masses have been suspended since March 13 when Brennan announced there would be no services because coronavirus spread throughout the country. Each parish is asked to submit an individual safety plan on what the parish workers and volunteers will do to keep people safe after the church reopens to the public.
“Bishop Brennan thanked the priests and was faithful in our parishes across the state who worked very hard to develop their plans to continue Mass celebrations in public,” Bishop said.
The bishopric forms a committee headed by Msgr. Eugene Ostrowski, vicar general of the diocese, recommended guidelines on what the church must do to be reopened.
The plan of salvation includes changes in the way the mass in each church will proceed with guidelines on physical distance, requirements for parishioners to wear masks, suspend Communion wine offerings and no longer use hymnbooks or hold each other’s hands during prayer.
“(Brennan and Ostrowski) work with parishes to ensure their plans work according to the direction set forth to continue the public Mass celebration,” Bishop said.
Some guidelines will be applied uniformly, the bishop said, despite the plan of salvation “Nuanced” for each church because of its size and population.
“For example, larger parishes like St. Michael in Wheeling will have different seating arrangements or more Masses than smaller parishes in the southern part of the diocese,” Bishop said.
The bishopric will continue to suspend the obligation to attend Mass indefinitely for those who care about contracting the corona virus.
Two parishes – one in Putnam County and another in Mercer County – have asked for a one-week delay in the resumption of in-person service “To ensure they can enforce the directives correctly” by the diocese, Bishop said. He added that officials from two unknown parishes thought they needed extra time to organize volunteers to clean up after each Mass and to have enough greetings and congratulations.
The bishop asks the faithful to follow the guidelines of each parish to keep themselves and others safe during the pandemic.
“When we return to church this weekend, we do it by the command of Christ – to love our neighbor – in our minds,” Bishop said. “Following the directions in our churches, which are designed to keep our neighbors safe, actually carry out that order.”