ATTLEBORO, Mass. (WPRI) — Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker allowed churches to open up for services last weekend, but the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River made the decision to wait a week.
“Church is certainly part of our routine every week, and I think it helps us to feel like we’re getting back to normal,” said Father Craig Pregana, the pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Attleboro.
“Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Spirit to the church and that’s when the apostles went out and began to preach,” he continued. “They left the locked rooms. I think we’re doing the same thing.”
Father Craig is new to these parishes.
“For me, this weekend is special because I’m meeting my parishioners for the first time,” he said. “I was assigned here during, or at the beginning of the pandemic.”
For one parishioner, the church is a place to come together with the community.
“It’s really a place where people can come who are in need … in need of anything physical or spiritual,” said Chris Donoghue, who volunteers at St. John the Evangelist.
People will now be able to attend church, but there will be restrictions in place. To comply with state guidelines, churches should keep all doors open during services, masks need to be worn, and everyone must practice social distancing.
“We had to rope off some to the seats and put signs to help guide people into the seats when they come on Sunday and Saturday,” Father Craig explained.
He’s been streaming services on Facebook but will reopen the churches for Mass this weekend. He said having an extra week allowed them to be better prepared.
“It did allow us to put together a team to help us prepare the church for opening,” Father Craig said.
“Health and safety is the most important thing, which is why we’ve been telling people all along if they are at greater risk because of COVID, either because of their age or condition, to please stay home,” Donoghue added.
After each service, Father Craig will be giving out Communion to anyone who may be of greater health risk, according to Donoghue.
“They can watch on the TV or on their computer and then receive Communion afterwards,” he said.
Father Craig said St. John The Evangelist underwent a deep cleaning and preventative treatment, but volunteers will continue working to keep it clean to stop the spread of the virus.
“We have a team of people after every Mass who will gather and clean all of the high-touch areas, and really the whole church,” Donoghue said.
Singing won’t happen, and materials like Bibles and Hymns won’t be available.
“Any way that people will be congregating or attempting to come together and touch the same surfaces, we’re getting rid of that as well,” Donoghue added.
He went on to explain the holy water Catholics use to bless with will be empty, and Communion is also changing.
“For us here, we’re going to offer Communion at the end of Mass as people are exiting church,” Father Craig said. “The Bishop has suspended receiving the blood of Christ for now because it would be sharing a cup, and Communion is only received in the hand.”
Donoghue said people will be spaced six feet apart when they receive Communion and Father Craig will sanitize his hands before he gives out the Eucharist.
Hand sanitizer will also be available throughout the church. Under new state guidelines, churches are restricted to 40% capacity and some parishes are asking parishioners to register ahead of time.
“We’ve done a registration online that will help us to more or less guess how many folks are coming. When we reach the max, we’re going to tell people to come next week.”
The churches also offer services in Spanish and Portuguese and will continue to stream them live on Facebook.
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