COVID-19 Return to Church Update

We are in the 12th week of our re-opening following a painful three month closing due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Although it has become clear that the pandemic is not over and social gatherings are still limited, the good news is that churches that follow appropriate guidelines in their gatherings have not become sources of noticeable virus spread.

Having returned to St. Gregory’s after it had already been reopened for prayer and sacraments, I must commend the reopening plan implemented here and those who put it together. They took seriously the mandate to keep our parishioners safe at all times. You have, I am sure, noticed some adjustments have been made since our reopening, as we have gained experience about what is necessary (no theoretical plan ever completely survives actual implementation).

We also continue to monitor all the information that comes from the diocese and from health experts. The guiding principle of this reopening is and always will be: balancing the essential nature of the sacramental life of the Church and our need as God’s people to experience that grace, with our moral responsibility to keep one another safe and not be a source of spread for a potentially deadly virus. These are the essential waters all of our plans must navigate.

There are many aspects of this pandemic that have impacted our daily lives, and our experience of church is no different. Many of the directives that have been put in place are inconvenient annoyances…let’s be honest, they are a pain in the neck, but they are currently necessary and will continue to be until we can confidently and safely return to normal.

Parishioners have been incredibly understanding and cooperative over the last 5 months, and although we all grumble once in a while at the small sacrifices we have to make (myself included), there are things that remain essential if we want to keep our church building safe and open.

  • Due to the unique arrangement of our pews, for weekend Masses, we will continue to follow the assigned seating procedures that we have implemented. I know that many attendees miss their favorite pews, but we have to ensure that social distancing is maintained as we gather. I am grateful to the coordinators and ushers who have put so much effort into making this happen.
  • Masks/Face Coverings must be worn at all times in church buildings. This is non-negotiable. I realize that there are some who have health concerns that make mask wearing difficult, but I remind you that the Bishop continues to dispense us from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays, and that dispensation will extend at least until Advent. Livestreaming of a Sunday Mass will also continue until the dispensation is lifted. Remember, it is still a mandate of the State to wear face coverings in public buildings. This does not just apply to Mass, but also to Private Prayer, Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals. 

We are constantly updating how we sanitize the church between gatherings, to make sure we are following all necessary guidelines. We also continue to adjust our practices when it comes to the celebration of the sacraments themselves, slowly returning the liturgies to normal, without compromising safety. As we follow the diocesan directives for reopening, there are a few additional things not related to weekday and Sunday Masses that are important to share.

  1. Baptisms: We are currently scheduling baptisms for Saturdays and Sundays, at set times. Only one family at a time may be scheduled and attendance must be limited.
  2. Matrimony: Weddings have also begun, but with restrictions. These include following all diocesan directives for social distancing and attendance, as well as being limited to nuptial ceremonies at this time. We cannot have full nuptial Masses until the diocese gives the green light to resume them.
  3. Confession/Reconciliation: We currently offer this sacrament Tuesday and Wednesday at 6:30PM in the church. We are unable to use the confessionals at this time, which makes Saturday afternoon impossible due to the need for confidentiality.
  4. Funerals: Funeral Masses are allowed in the church, following all the directives for the celebration of Mass. This is a welcome change from the situation in the Spring, where these were not allowed. Priests and Deacons are also available for funeral home services and graveside committals. 
  5. Anointing of the Sick: Priests are available at the church for Anointings and appointments can be scheduled. We can also make emergency home/nursing home visits. We do all we can to be safe when we do so, but please try to limit the need for home visits to true emergencies at this time.
  6. Meetings: This one area remains unchanged. We can only use indoor space for sacramental, educational (school and religious education), and essential parish business related gatherings at this time. Ministry gatherings and meetings are still not allowed. There are options for using outdoor space on campus, as long as it is scheduled through the parish office and social distancing and face covering directives are observed. 

Over the next few weeks, you will, most likely, see more schedule adjustments made to accommodate our attendance as well as incremental changes in liturgical ceremonies to bring them closer to normal. However, these changes will occur slowly, and only when deemed to be appropriate and necessary. 

On a positive note, we are catching up on much that was missed during the lock down. We were able to have our First Confessions/Reconciliation on two weekends in August, our First Communions are scheduled for two weekends in September. Our Catechumens and Candidates in RCIA as well as those who have been waiting for Confirmation will be able to receive their Sacraments of Initiation in the month of October, so there is much in the way of good news.

As I say often, I long for the day when we can open the doors without any concerns, but until that day comes we continue to do the best we can. I am very thankful for your cooperation and understanding over these months, and I know that the Holy Spirit guides us in all of our decision making as long as we are open to that grace. We continue pray every day for the health, safety, and spiritual well-being of all who need our prayers.

Yours in Christ: 

Fr. Michael Hall 
Pastor: St. Gregory the Great
Church of St. Gregory the Great
Rev. Michael Hall, Pastor
4620 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square, NJ 08690