Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer outlined guidelines and a schedule for the return to in-person worship services for Catholics in what he called a “measured and careful approach.”
The plan “will slowly allow people to re-enter our parish buildings and to once again provide sacraments,” he said in a video released on Monday.
Hartmayer, who was installed as the seventh Atlanta archbishop earlier this month, said the church will continue to evaluate and make adjustments as necessary.
“We’re not throwing the doors open,” said Maureen Smith, director of communications, who said the safety of parishioners comes first.
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In-person daily Masses can start as early as Monday, May 25, with weekend masses beginning on May 30 and May 31. Most churches have several masses or prayer services each day.
Individual pastors can use their discretion on how to proceed and some may opt to continue online services, and social distancing is still required. Churches may also be open for prayer and adoration on an announced schedule.
Catholic church members are still allowed to miss in-person Sunday Mass through June 28.
By not requiring Catholics to attend Sunday Mass, the plan allows a church to spread attendance over several days and gives the archdiocese time to review the process to see if any tweaks are needed.
Among other changes:
- Distribution of the communion wafer or bread is allowed by hand, but not drinking from the chalice. There should also be no physical contact during the sign of peace. One-way aisles for Holy Communion are recommended.
- Parishioners are encouraged to take their temperature before leaving home and to avoid coming to church if the temperature is 99.6 degrees or higher. Taking of temperature at church entrances is allowed, according to the parish's published or announced procedure.
- Anyone who is ill should remain at home. Those who are at risk or concerned that they or their family might become sick should stay at home and view online Mass.
- Before returning to regular Mass and visitation, churches are to be deep-cleaned, including carpets, pews, restrooms, water fountains, doorknobs, light switches, microphones, music stands, chairs and other furniture.
- Materials including—hymnals and bibles — should be temporarily removed from pews and chairs.
According to the Georgia Bulletin, the newspaper of the Atlanta Archdiocese, parishes may use a reservation system or first-come, first-admitted process that allows for social distancing.
There has been concern by health officials about churches resuming in-person services, even if they forgo practices like shaking hands and communion or don’t have child care services. There are been numerous cases where the spread of the novel coronavirus was traced to church gatherings.
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For instance, in California a person who later tested positive for COVID-19 potentially exposed 180 other people to the virus after attending a church service on Mother’s Day. At least two of Georgia’s most severe outbreaks likely originated in religious gatherings.
Since the spread of the virus, many Georgians have followed shelter-in-place directives, although recently the governor has taken steps to reopen Georgia businesses as long as they adhere to guidelines.
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Kemp has wrestled with banning in-person religious services and did not ordered churches to close. Instead, he has recommended houses of worship hold services in alternate ways.
The Atlanta archdiocese has 1.2 million Catholics and covers 69 North Georgia counties, including all of metro Atlanta and Athens.
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