General Protocol for Parish Safe Environment

PURPOSE: To share with parishioners of St Charles Borromeo of the steps that will be taken to assure a healthy worship environment.

SCOPE: This protocol covers all aspects of how worship will be conducted and expectations of parishioners and guests who worship in our space.

As you know, all the Catholic churches in the Berkshires are re-opening on the Feast of Pentecost. The Bishop wants everyone to know that the Sunday obligation continues to be suspended. Anyone who does not feel well should not attend church, and anyone who is uncomfortable due to risk factors or common anxiety need not attend worship services. For those who do come to St Charles Borromeo, this letter will help to give you an idea of what we are doing to create a safe and prayerful environment, what you will need to do, and some changes we will need to make to the way we worship. We have received confirmation of our certification from Bishop Rozanski that we are following all local, state and diocesan regulations to assure both public health concerns and Church liturgical norms. You may find that some parishes will conform to these regulations in different ways. For example, some parishes will have ushers and pass the basket during Mass – we will continue our current donation practices. Some parishes are looking at having Eucharistic Ministers go pew to pew, person to person for Communion, while others are looking at distributing Communion after Mass. We will distribute Communion in the usual way with some simple modifications.

My goal is to make sure all regulations are followed in the most subtle ways possible. So much has changed over the last 3 months. I want to make sure St Charles Borromeo still feels like home. Our worship space will consist of the church itself, seating a few less than 300, or in the parish hall where Mass will be projected live from the church. The parish hall will seat about 120. Both of these numbers are within the 40% maximum occupancy currently allowed by the state. Some parishes are using a reservation service to help avoid having more people at any one Mass than allowed. By using the parish hall and the church I think we should be fine. If we find otherwise, we will also require people to make a reservation to attend Mass, either online or by phone.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW

All commonly touched objects including tops of pews, door knobs, elevator buttons and rails, all sacred vessels including those in the tabernacle will be sanitized with ph neutral products from CINTAS. CINTAS will also deep clean our restrooms every other week and swap out area rugs monthly. Objects that cannot be wiped down, such as the lectionary, Book of the Gospels, bulletins and Communion hosts will be scanned with an ultra-violet wand between Masses. We will be looking for volunteers to help with that. Holy Water fonts will be empty and covered with a white drape to discourage the habit of touching a common object. i Beginning on the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time bulletins will be made available on the shelf in the back of the church for anyone who wishes to take one. These will be placed inside the church so that everyone who takes one will have already passed the hand sanitizing station. All bulletins are to be taken home or left in the recycle bins at the exits. They are not to be left in the pews or returned for someone else to pick up. Anyone who wishes to receive a bulletin in the mail or emailed to you may call Robbie to make those arrangements.

We will not have ushers taking up the collection to remove another point of contact. We will continue the current practice of sending contributions by online giving, US Post Office, autopay or dropping off. Donations have been very generous, and I suspect will even improve as we return to services. Thank you very much for your continued generosity.

To avoid congestion, we will not have Greeters at the doors for the time being.

The priest, lector and Eucharistic Ministers will have their temperature checked with a forehead temperature device, will review the COVID Check List mandated for parish employees, and will be required to wash their hands before Mass begins. (For the time being we will not have altar servers, although you may see the lector assist in that role.) We want to make sure our ministers are not showing symptoms and hands are clean when they enter the church. Eucharistic Ministers will sanitize their hands, as has been our practice, before distributing Communion. They will also wear a mask. Eucharistic Ministers will come to the sanctuary without their own mask after the priest offers the Sign of Peace to the congregation. Once at their place they will use sanitation hand wipes to cleanse their hands. After they have received Communion, they will be given a new, clean face mask to wear while distributing Communion. They will keep this mask on until at least they return to their pew

There will only be one restroom available until further notice for emergency use.

WHAT YOU MUST DO

Everyone, unless they have an age or health exemption, must wear a face-covering/mask their entire time on the St Charles Borromeo campus except when receiving Holy Communion. That will be discussed below. Everyone should also bring their own hand-sanitizer to use, especially before receiving Communion.

Everyone will enter the church through the front doors or elevator to assure everyone is walking in the same direction and no one need pass another going the opposite directions. If you are going to attend Mass in the parish hall you will enter by way of the elevator or by way of the doorway leading up to the sacristy. There will be no entry into the church from that door. Exit is permissible through any door/elevator.ii As long as congregation size allows, the priest will process at the end of Mass to the front door to greet people, with mask on, outside. The congregation will leave at its own pace, deferring to others to allow sufficient ‘social distance.’ As everyone will be walking in the same direction there is no need, at present, to stagger departure. The new doors into the hall from the Poontusuc St side of the church have been installed. Entry is not permitted at this time. It may be used to exit in an emergency.

Entering the church/parish hall, you will find hands-free hand sanitizers to be used before taking your seat.

In order to comply with the 40% capacity and social distance regulations, seating in the church/hall will be restricted. Pews and rows of chairs will be marked by a green square where you may sit, and a red square where you may not. These restrictions must be followed.

Please do not stop to visit with people in the church to avoid people needing to walk unnecessarily around each other. You may sit with anyone with whom you came, family or friends, or anyone with whom you made previous arrangements to meet. Physical distance is not required between individuals who want to sit together – and can easily fit in the pew. If you are alone or with one other, please sit on one end of the pew or row to allow others who may be alone or with another to sit on the other end of the same pew or row and still keep 6’ distance between yourselves. Please do not ask anyone already seated if you may join them as they may feel put on the spot.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Once you are seated, the Mass will proceed as usual. The lector will begin with a welcome as usual and announce Mass intentions. I will process in from the side rather than down the main aisle. For the foreseeable future we will not have the children come up to the altar at the 9:15 Mass, nor will we have our Social Hour on the first Sunday of the month. Otherwise Mass will continue in the usual way. Singing is nearly if not impossible with a mask, so there is no singing. Our music director, Joe, will continue to play for us as well as sing, and Pat Kelly will continue to be our 4:00 cantor, although he will do so from the choir loft rather than from the ambo. We may have additional musicians from time to time. We have been asked not to have a choir.

Everyone will continue to refrain from the Sign of Peace.

For reception of Communion, minor but meaningful adjustments will be made. We will have myself and one EM in the church and one EM in the hall.iii Both in the church and in the hall, we will have sanitized our hands as has been our practice, and we will put on new, clean face masks. We will distribute Communion by sections, two sections at a time. Please do not leave your pew to join a different section receiving Communion as that results in people passing each other in opposite directions when you return to your seat – this must be avoided. The minister of Communion will invite you to come forward when it is time for your section. You are asked to remove you mask before coming forward and not replace until back in your pew so you are not distracted during this solemn moment. At this time, you should sanitize your hands and follow the markings on the floor to keep distance. Please do not leave your pew/seat until there is room for you to be 6’ behind the person in front of you. As directed by the Bishop, Communion will be only in the hand and without gloves on either hand. If you present wanting to receive on the tongue or are wearing gloves, the minister, be it myself or someone else, will remind you that we cannot offer Communion to you in that manner, and ask you to step aside so we may continue. You will approach the minister of the Eucharist just as you have always done, going up one aisle and then back the other. By distributing by sections, we avoid people standing next to or passing-by one another, and allow people to leave and return to their seat in the same way as we have always done – just not all at the same time. For the time being we will not have a Communion station in the middle of the church.

You will notice that as you approach the minister of Communion, the markings keep us a little further apart than in the past. Both you and the minister will need to comfortably extend arms out to receive to provide a little extra distance, but no one should stretch. The EM will come to you if necessary. You should hold your hands palms up and flat, not cupped. This lessens the chance of contact and allows the minister to place the host in your palm rather than drop it into your cupped hands. Rather than thinking ‘safety,’ you might want to keep in mind the words of St John Chrysostom to the newly baptized: “With the left hand make a throne on which the right hand sits to receive the King.” (Left or right hand makes no difference.)

Please keep in mind: reception of Holy Communion takes less than 7 seconds and involves the exchange of 5 words. This is why it is so important to remove your mask before coming up and waiting until you are back to your seat to put back on. This very solemn moment is very brief and there is no reason for you to be distracted. Both yours and our hands are sanitized, we are wearing a mask, and we have a little extra distance between us. Enjoy the grace of the moment and do not worry about anything else.

The Mass will proceed as usual. After the general dismissal, “The Mass is ended,”iv the priest will process down the center aisle, with mask on, to the front doors as usual to greet the people outside, weather permitting. You may exit by any door, and are asked to keep masks on until you are back in your car.

Daily Mass will follow the same format.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation will continue to be celebrated at the standard time of 3-3:30 on Saturday afternoon, but will be celebrated in the sacristy to allow 6’ distance between you and the priest and to assure privacy. Masks are to be worn unless you have a health or age exemption. Please wait your turn sitting only in the green pews and defer to one another in’ first come first served’ manner. v

For Funerals and Memorial services, when there is a casket, all family and pall bearers will be seated before the entrance hymn when the casket is escorted down the aisle by funeral home staff. The opening rite takes place in front of the altar, not at the door. Family or friends may proclaim the readings and/or the General Intercessions and one eulogy. Per diocesan directives, these will be done from a lectern set up in front of the family side of the sanctuary for that purpose. The Gospel and homily will continue to be proclaimed from the ambo. There will no longer be the opportunity for family/friends to bring the bread and wine forward for the Eucharistic.

After the Final Commendation, the funeral pall is removed, the casket is blessed with holy water, the casket is turned around. The pall bearers may escort the casket out of the church. Family and guests follow. The priest may or may not process to the doors.

When there are cremains, the service will be conducted in the usual way beginning at the front of the altar. Other guidelines mentioned above also apply.

Thank you for taking the time to read this rather long message. I do think the more we all know the more comfortable you will all be.

God bless – hope to see you in church – Fr John

Approved: May 13, 2020/Revised June 25, 2020

i The following has been deleted: There will be, for now, no bulletins to avoid a common point of contact and, as they are often left behind in the pews, make cleaning easier.

ii The following has been deleted: We will be dismissing by sections to avoid congestion. We are still waiting for the installation of the threshold for the new doors on the Pontoosuk Street side at the front of the church, so entry there is not yet possible.

iii Seating in the parish hall will not be available until congregation size in the church proper requires it.

iv The following has been deleted: I will excuse everyone by sections to avoid congestion at the doors – all doors may be used to exit.

v The following has been deleted: For the time being, we will not celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Diocese requires both 6’ physical distance and the wearing of masks by myself and penitent. Our Reconciliation Room does allow for the distance, there can be no confessions behind the screen as that does not allow 6’ distance, but with distance and masks, I am concerned about privacy. I am exploring options of how best to celebrate the Sacrament and will decide very soon as to how we will proceed. I know that St Agnes is looking at having drive-by Reconciliation. I am not keen on that, but it is an option for you in the meantime.