With in-person services set to resume, houses of worship prepare plans to keep congregations safe
BATON ROUGE - Outside of St. Thomas More Catholic Church, signs hang on the doors reading, "At this time, there are no public celebrations of Mass." Those will be removed soon as houses of worship, including churches, will be able to open beginning Friday.
"For the past six weeks, I've been preaching to an empty church, Fr. Michael Alello said. "I am anxious to see the faces of our community again."
The return of in-person services, does not, however, mean the return to pre-coronavirus routines. In the state's 'Phase One' plan, houses of worship can operate at 25 percent capacity. For St. Thomas More, that's roughly 200 people. An online reservation will be required for parishioners wanting to attend an upcoming Mass.
"In the first hour, we got nearly 200 emails of people who were signing in," Alello said. Every time they signed up we got an email."
To allow everyone a chance to attend a service, parishioners will be limited to one sign-up every two weeks. Alello says the weekend schedule will not change, but only two Mass services will be held during the week, on Tuesday evenings and Thursday mornings.
For those who do sign up and get a seat, they'll notice blue painter's tape marking off every other pew. That is how Alello and parish officials plan to keep people separated. Pews will be filled from front to back as parishioners arrive.
"The pew that you normally sit in, the pew that you've sat in for 20 years, you're not going to get to choose your seat," Alello said. "Be ready for that, and be willing to be flexible and sit elsewhere."
Alello says masks will also be required at each service. That is a rule being implemented by the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Bishop Michael Duca says only families or those living together will be able to sit together.
There will also still be a restriction on taking Communion from the common chalice.
While many are excited to return to their sanctuary of choice, Duca says there should be no pressure to do so.
"The dispensation for the obligation of Sunday Mass will remain indefinitely in place at this time," Duca said. "Do not feel that obligation on yourself. Stay comfortable, be safe."
At St. Thomas More, Alello is certain there will be some flaws to work out in this new plan, but asks for patience as parishioners return to pews.
"Is it going to be perfect," Alello wonders. "No. It might frustrate some people, likely. But this is our chance for the first time in over a month, almost two months now, to gather together, to pray together, to receive the Eucharist, and I've got to tell you, that makes me pretty excited."
To sign up for St. Thomas More Mass, click here.
Manship-owned TV stations will broadcast a series of religious services on Sunday. For more information, click here.
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