The Catholic Conference of Ohio, the state’s conference of Catholic bishops, announced on May 8 a plan that will allow a “soft opening” date later this month for resuming the public celebration of weekday Masses/liturgies. Protocols will be in place to ensure that the celebrations can be achieved safely, they said.
The announcement comes as Gov. Mike Dewine’s “Responsible Restart Ohio Plan” is being implemented during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The governor’s plan allows a gradual return to work and lifting of some of the restrictions regarding consumer, retail and services, returning to operation.
Knowing that the clergy, as well as the faithful, are anxious for the safe return to the public celebration of Mass/liturgies, the bishops said they are making every effort to respect the spirit of the governor’s instructions as they find a way to make the public celebration of Mass/Liturgy available.
[Watch a video message from Father Don Oleksiak, diocesan administrator, regarding this announcement HERE]
“To that end, we inform you that the bishops of Ohio have agreed that each diocese will determine a soft opening date later in May granting permission for the public celebration of weekday Mass/liturgy, where it can be achieved safely -- and where pastorally possible -- with less than 50% occupancy of the church building, respecting social distancing,” the bishops said in a joint letter on May 8. Their plan provides for the possibility of the gradual return to the public celebration of Mass/liturgy and prepares for the weekend of May 30-31, the solemnity of Pentecost, when Sunday Mass/liturgy can be celebrated publicly.
“During the next few weeks, we will be working with our pastors and diocesan pastoral staffs to prepare for a soft opening of public celebration of weekday Mass/liturgy,” the bishops said. “To this end, we ask our pastors with their parish staffs to prepare to implement a rigorous effort to fulfill guidelines, which will be forthcoming from each diocese/eparchy, to include maintaining social distancing, recommendations to provide a safe environment, and instructions for the distribution of holy Communion.”
The bishops noted that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass/liturgy remains in effect.
“As your bishops, we continue to be cautious and concerned for those who are most at risk -- the elderly and those with serious health issues. We also remain deeply concerned for our priests, many of whom we find in this category. We strongly urge those who are most vulnerable and their caregivers to stay at home, and we implore those who are not feeling well, or who fear that their own health or that of their family may be compromised, to refrain from coming to church at this time. We thank you for your patience, understanding and cooperation as we implement this gradual return to the public celebration of Mass/liturgy,” the bishops said.
Members of the bishops’ conference also said they continue to pray for all who are suffering from COVID-19, for all health care workers and first responders, for all the deceased and their families and for an easing of the anxiety and tension caused by this pandemic.
Members of the Ohio Conference are Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr, archbishop of Cincinnati; Bishop Daniel E. Thomas, bishop of Toledo; Bishop George V. Murry, S.J., bishop of Youngstown; Bishop Jeffrey M. Monforton, bishop of Steubenville; Bishop Robert J. Brennan, bishop of Columbus; Father Donald P. Oleksiak, diocesan administrator of Cleveland; Bishop J. Michael Botean, Romanian Eparchy of Canton; Bishop Bohdan J. Danylo, Ukrainian Eparchy of St. Josaphat; and Bishop Milan Lach, S.J., Byzantine Eparchy of Parma.