In order to restore access to the Sacraments, we need to clearly define the problems we’re faced with and then solve those problems systematically.
I believe our problems fall into two main categories: protecting health and protecting image. The former is fairly self explanatory. I think it’s obvious there is a health risk. The magnitude of that personal risk varies greatly individual to individual (again, check out Part 1 for more info).
Let’s move on to the second category – protecting image. I think this is an area that is under-appreciated – we have an opportunity to turn this completely on its head. I’ll explain.
I agree wholeheartedly with people who are upset that the Sacraments are not considered “essential services.” Am I surprised though? No. Are you? Put yourself in their shoes. They don’t understand the importance, and it’s unlikely we can convince them of the importance overnight. It’s all too easy to shut us down, especially when we have done almost nothing to publicly convey steps we would take to protect public health. We have no operational plan to deal with this (with some exceptions).
How can we successfully navigate and conquer the real problems we have (health) and by doing so, give the secular world NO reason to limit our activities (image)?
I think there several things we need to address now so we can win:
- Fulfill our duty to slow the spread of this virus
- Protect the vulnerable members of the community
- Mitigate risk to the extent possible
- Demonstrate that we are committed to the above items
The last item on that list is free. All we have to do it take care of 1, 2 and 3 in tangible ways, and 4 should follow naturally. I hope you’re with me so far. So what should we do next…
I have ideas… not answers….
I trust the Priests of my Parish. I really do. And I know that they are trying very hard to shepherd us dutifully during this time. So I don’t presume to offer answers here. These are merely ideas for consideration. However, they will only remain ideas if we don’t at least talk about them, and work together to figure this out.
Before I get into the ideas, I think it’s likely that we will see the shelter-in-place orders lifted in the near future (1-2 mo), but I think it is entirely possible that the ban on gatherings in excess of a certain number will continue. These ideas are meant for operating in the post-shelter-in-place world, where restrictions on gatherings continue.
Limits on Gathering Size & Social Distancing
I think this is one of the easier ones to solve provided we don’t wear our priests out. It’s a bit of a numbers game.
- Each parish increases the number of Sunday Masses such that the following equation is satisfied.
# of Masses = Total Parishioners / Gathering Size Limit
The only other possible consideration is some Parishes with a smaller physical space may need to limit further, or find an outdoor space that is suitable.
- Once the number of Masses has been determined, each Mass could be setup like an event with a limited number of “seats”. We can systematically manage the number of people at each Mass. First come, first serve for your favorite time slot. Registration would be easiest if it were handled online.
- Reserve 1 or 2 of those Mass times for the highest risk people. 65 and older as well as those who are immunocompromised. Grocery stores are doing this, why can’t we?
- Volunteers / Ushers could escort each household to an area that is a prescribed distance from another household. And because we already thought ahead and limited the number of people at each Mass systematically, we know we’ll have enough room.
- Advise symptomatic parishioners to remain home.
- Publicly post the cleaning steps in place to sanitize surfaces, hands, etc. “We wipe down the pews, door handles, etc. after each Mass and Father X washes his hands prior to the Consecration…” Let people see that it is happening. I’ve often cringed at hand sanitizer at Mass on the Alter, but this is a different disease. Maybe it’s time to consider using it?
- Setup a sanitization room using UV-C bulbs so that things can be efficiently decontaminated. Maybe all the palms could be processed this way?
- Open the windows in the Church to circulate air.
- Encourage everyone to wear a mask – why not have volunteers sewing masks at home for the Parish? What a great way to have the community help each other. There are plans online now for how to sew a surgical style mask and it is shown to reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease in a confined space.
- Perhaps the most sensitive question is what about Holy Communion?
- Have a separate Priest distributing the Eucharist to the highest risk parishioners.
- Increase the number of Priests distributing the Eucharist so the interacting groups are smaller.
Don’t Forget #4
You may think some of these things are ridiculous, but as long as they don’t compromise the Faith, who cares? Part of winning this battle is going to be demonstrating that we are taking it seriously and “there is nothing to see here.” Let the restrictions pass over us and on to other higher risk groups that haven’t thought this through.
Alternatively, we can simply wait until the restrictions are wholly lifted and then carry on.
Lastly, if you agree that some of these recommendations are reasonable, consider sending them to your Bishop. The Priests are acting under their direction.
special thanks to those who helped generate these ideas.