Welcome back,” Father Sean Ralph said to the nearly 60 people who attended the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Memorial Day at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Cleveland. It was the first Mass celebrated publicly at the cathedral since the suspension of public liturgies in March due to the coronavirus health crisis. “I am delighted to be here with you to celebrate the most important thing we do,” he added. Father Ralph is cathedral rector.
Things were a bit different, beginning with the way the cathedral looked. Nearly everyone in the church was wearing a face mask. The faithful were asked to use hand sanitizer when entering the church and after Mass.
Social distancing is the rule inside the church with every third pew available for seating. Signs remind the faithful that only one family, two couples or three individuals should sit in any open pew.
Blue tape marked six-foot intervals on the floor where the faithful stand as they wait in a socially distanced line to receive Communion.
Hymn books were removed from the pews but printed bulletins that contain the Mass parts and other useful information were available. Bulletins or other items picked up in the church should be taken home after Mass and not left in pews.
The offertory procession has been eliminated, as has the offertory collection and the sign of peace. Members of the congregation are asked to make their donations online or drop donations into the large, locked collection boxes in the front and rear of the church.
A note in the bulletin instructs the faithful not to sing as it could contribute to the spread of the virus.
There is a new Communion distribution procedure using the main aisle with one side of the church at a time coming forward at six-foot intervals. It is recommended that Communion be received in the hand.
Also, those who are not feeling well or who have a fever should stay home. Although publicly celebrated Masses have resumed, the Catholic bishops in Ohio extended the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, especially for who are at high-risk for COVID-19 or those who are concerned about attending Mass.
One server and one lector were assigned for the Mass, which was livestreamed on the diocesan website. Daily Mass – Monday through Friday – will continue to be livestreamed, as will Sunday Mass. However, the times have been changed. Daily Mass will be streamed live at noon beginning May 26 and at 8 a.m. Sundays beginning May 31. The Sunday TV Mass will continue to be broadcast at 6 a.m. on Fox 8.
Father Ralph said there will be one daily Mass for the next two weeks to evaluate congregation sizes. In addition, confessions will not be scheduled during the initial two-week period.
“Once we have worked out the hiccups with procedures related to the celebration of Mass, we will phase in confessions, probably beginning June 8,” Father Ralph said. However, confession is available by appointment, as it has been throughout the quarantine, he added. “Our goal is to offer fitting worship to God as best we can during these times and to keep everyone as safe as possible,” he said.
In his Memorial Day homily, Father Ralph offered his gratitude for those who served their country and his prayers for those who died in service to their country.
Referring to the day’s readings, he said the Holy Spirit came upon the people and they were changed. “The Holy Spirit began to work in and through them,” Father Ralph said, adding that we receive the Holy Spirit in confirmation.
“We want the Spirit to stir us into the works of God,” he said.
After Mass, Father Ralph thanked the congregation for their patience and understanding as the new procedures for public Masses are fine-tuned. He also spent a few minutes greeting – from a social distance – the faithful as they left the church.
For more resources and information on returning to publicly celebrated Masses, visit the Forward with Christ page on the diocesan website. Also, check with your parish for worship times and additional information.