The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange announced plans for public Masses to resume in phases in Orange County starting June 14.
The first phase includes allowing small groups of healthy people to gather for limited Mass, church officials said Friday in a news release. The second phase will allow for larger groups; the third will permit choirs and social gatherings. All phases will require participants to follow strict guidelines for social distancing and disinfection, officials said.
The pandemic is far from over, so we will begin with small steps, said Diocese of Orange Bishop Kevin Vann in a statement. Realizing that reinfection is a concern, as we saw occurred in Texas and elsewhere, I am asking our pastors to prepare their churches to ensure that these guidelines are followed without exception.
On Saturday, officials announced that Orange County has been approved by the state to mount a more aggressive reopening of local businesses.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to provide plans on reopening churches Monday, after previously saying such reopenings were just a few weeks away.
In Orange County, the bishops advisors have been working on reopening guidelines for weeks, in consultation with county officials and medical experts, the release said.
Those over 65 or who have an underlying health condition will be encouraged not to return when churches initially reopen, as will anyone who is sick or lives with someone who is sick.
Holy water fonts will remain empty, hymnals will be removed, and people will be instructed not to touch one another, including during greetings. Church rituals that require touching, like the sign of peace, will be suspended.
In most cases, churches will be required to limit their capacity to one-third of normal attendance, officials said. More Masses will be offered than usual, and people will be encouraged to come throughout the week to avoid crowding on Sundays. Vann extended a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday to permit the shift.
The bishop also granted a temporary dispensation allowing priests to celebrate Mass outside of church buildings, including in gyms, parish halls and outdoor spaces.
Officials said Catholics should check parish websites for specific instructions on how Masses will be held and when attendance will be allowed.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jos H. Gmez said church service for now remains only via the internet.
I think its clear to all of us that it might be possible in the coming future to be able to open physically the churches and receive parishioners to come. Its not going to be the same in the beginning, because there is the reality of the social distance and also making sure that the churches are sanitized and people are protected when they come to church, Gomez said in a statement Saturday.
And I insist that thats the most important thing that we protect one another. We know that God is with us, but at the same time we have to be careful and make sure that we protect each other in this challenging time, he added. So, let us keep praying. Let us keep working together.