Dear Friends in Christ,
I know how difficult it has been for so many of you over these last several weeks to be physically separated from your parishes and the sacraments. It has been difficult for the clergy and religious of our Archdiocese who also wish very much to be together for Mass and to be present to you, especially at this difficult time.
We limited the celebration of Mass to private offerings without the physical presence of the faithful as a way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus and keeping you and all our fellow Marylanders safe during this time of crisis.
Although many of our priests and parish leaders have done a wonderful job providing for livestream Masses, I know how deeply our people yearn to come to Mass and receive our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament or find forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation.
We all long for a return to face-to-face fellowship, faith sharing and community.
To that end, we have begun the work of developing a plan for the careful and gradual reopening of our churches.
Over the last several weeks, I have been meeting via videoconferences with groups of priests and laity from across the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I have listened to their concerns and sought their input on the best ways of reopening our parishes.
I have also consulted with the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, the Presbyteral Council and parish catechetical leaders. In addition, I have received regular updates from civic leaders and public health officials and the Archdiocese has a representative on the Governor’s advisory group of faith leaders.
A subcommittee on the archdiocesan coronavirus taskforce is now in the final stages of developing plans for how we will reopen our parishes as soon as it is safe to do so. I can report to you now that the plan will place the safety of everyone in our community at the forefront of everything we do.
Our actions will be informed by Gov. Larry Hogan’s three-stage process for reopening the State of Maryland. We will also work in concert with other dioceses in our region to provide a coordinated and consistent approach.
In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, our first step will be to reopen churches for private prayer. The number of people gathering for private prayer, such as for eucharistic adoration, will be strictly limited at first and there will be social distancing requirements in place.
Also in the first stage of reopening, confessions, weddings, funerals and baptisms will resume – all with limits on the number of people present and with social distancing practices in place.
Public Masses will most likely resume in a second stage of reopening, again with social distancing practices in place and limits on attendance.
Even when public Masses begin again, not every parish will be able to make them available. Some of our larger parishes may find it difficult to limit attendance at Mass and may choose to delay offering public Masses. Know that pastors will work with regional vicars to collaborate with other nearby parishes to make Masses available regionally. Eventually, Masses will be made available without limitations on attendance.
Once Masses begin, the obligation to attend will initially remain suspended, understanding that people may not immediately feel comfortable gathering in large groups. Anyone who is ill or is vulnerable due to an existing health condition will be asked not to attend Masses. Anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 will be asked to self-quarantine for 14 days before coming to Mass.
Our public Masses will look different from our liturgies prior to the pandemic because of social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment. You will notice that the Sign of Peace might be omitted or limited and that we will not be offering the Precious Blood during the distribution of the Eucharist. Our priests and deacons might not be able to greet you before or after Mass and there may be some changes in how we line up to receive the Blessed Sacrament. There will also be mandatory spacing of families and individuals in pews and a requirement for the masking of faces.
Once plans are finalized, we will share detailed guidance for our parish leaders and our entire faith community. The details of those plans will be made public in the days ahead on the archdiocesan website, www.archbalt.org.
While I believe the first phase of our plan will be able to be safely implemented relatively soon, I do not have an exact timeline for when this will take place. We will move forward when it is safe, relying on the informed guidance of health and state officials. I ask for your continued patience as we will navigate what will be a complex and challenging process for all of us.
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I’m looking forward to the day when I can celebrate Mass with you again. To be able to celebrate the Chrism Mass, when we will bless the holy oils used in the sacraments, and to be able to ordain new priests for our Archdiocese will be special moments of joy for me and the entire Archdiocese.
Until then, you and your families remain in my prayers.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William E. Lori
Archbishop of Baltimore