NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Christmas is two weeks away, and already several churches are at full capacity for Christmas Eve Mass.
Large parishes are requesting Catholics reserve a spot either online or with a physical ticket, so they secure a seat on one of their holiest days.
President John F. Kennedy got married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Newport, which is one of the many reasons it’s a tourist destination, and why it adds another level of concern amidst the pandemic and the busy Christmas season.
“Traditionally over the Christmas weekend we have about 3,000 people, that’s four Masses,” Father Kris von Maluski said. “It used to be standing room only.”
On a normal Christmas Eve, von Maluski said the church would still have to turn people away because it would be so packed.
“Then we have police here on property because people were irate that they were getting closed out of Christmas Mass,” von Maluski said. “So, can you imagine going from 700 to 100? We’re still going to hire a policeman and those are for the people saying, ‘What do you mean I can’t get into church?'”
St. Mary’s was built in the 1850s and the pews are very close together. This means that, even though it can seat 700 people at 25% capacity, there still isn’t enough distance between parishioners, and only about 100 people can attend Mass safely at a time.
“People will come with a little card that says their name, the number of people that they preregistered, and the row and the usher will bring you to that,” von Maluski explained.
He said the Diocese of Providence is requesting churches not add extra services to accommodate more parishioners, meaning the Christmas Eve Mass is already fully booked.
“We started the second week of October and we handed out registration forms,” von Maluski said.
He also mandated that only parishioners could reserve a spot, and that it was too late to become a parishioner.
“Many of the parishioners are elderly and I can’t limit them access to the church, so that’s why we went to paper,” he said. “We’re making sure that those that came during the pandemic, that trusted us, can still come at Christmas, and not get bumped by someone who hasn’t been or even a tourist.”
12 News checked in with some other local priests who said they found it frustrating they couldn’t add more Mass times on Christmas Eve, because they too are already fully booked.