PORTLAND, Maine — A parish priest in Bangor, Maine, said he saw many Massgoers “in tears” as they took Holy Communion for the first time in close to three months at a publicly celebrated Mass June 7, Trinity Sunday, at St. Paul the Apostle Church.
Father Augustine Nellary, parochial vicar of the parish, said he was “extremely excited to have some of our parishioners back in the church and celebrate the Eucharist with them. I saw many of them in tears as they received the Eucharist.”
Across the country, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles celebrated his first Mass with faithful present at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Attendance was limited to 100 people, on a first-come, first-served basis, following the guidelines and regulations set by the Los Angeles County Health Department and the archdiocese.
In his homily, Gomez said: “Today marks a beautiful new beginning for the family of God here in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, as many of our churches are opening to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time in many weeks.”
“God is love! This is the meaning of the Trinity. And God’s love is personal. The Father creates us, the Son comes to redeem us, and the Spirit is sent to sanctify us,” he said.
“This beautiful teaching about the Holy Trinity is important for us in these days when we are seeing demonstrations about racism in Los Angeles and cities across the country,” he said referring widespread protests demanding racial justice that have been ongoing since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an 46-year-old African American man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.
“When we contemplate the Trinity, we see the truth that God loves every person, that every person is made in his image and likeness, that we are all sons and daughters in Christ, called to belong to God’s family,” Gomez continued. “I think we can all reflect on this duty that we have in this moment, to be peacemakers when our society is divided about these questions of race and equality.”
On May 26, Gomez told priests and parish staff churches in the archdiocese could begin to open to the public the first week of June if they implemented certain safety guidelines.
In recent weeks, U.S. dioceses have begun issuing plans for the gradual reopening of churches over several phases with the safety of congregants, priests, deacons and other parish staff foremost in the minds of Catholic officials — and with safety protocols in place, including required mask wearing and social distancing inside church, with seating in designated pews.
The gradual opening of churches or planned openings — with limits on congregation size — have for the most part come as cities and states announce a gradual reopening of a variety of what they deem as “nonessential” public and private entities, including churches, as the threat of COVID-19 has subsided — but not gone away entirely
Dioceses are still encouraging online giving to parishes, and Masses pretty much everywhere continue to be livestreamed.
In the statewide Diocese of Portland, Maine, the effort to reopen churches, even in a limited fashion, prompted creativity among clergy and parish staff. No more than 50 people could be in attendance, masks were mandatory, and temporary pew seating arrangements ensured social-distancing guidelines were followed. In addition, reservations were required to make sure capacity wasn’t exceeded.
But Catholics felt the regulations and protocols were small prices to pay for the opportunity to be together again.
“People were so very happy to be back at Mass. I told them how wonderful it was to have more people to pray with,” said Father John Skehan, pastor of St. Michael Parish in Augusta. “I told them I felt as though I was praying with a congregation of bank robbers since they were all masked!”
“We are grateful to God that we are able once again to celebrate and receive Eucharist together,” said Bishop Robert P. Deeley of Portland told Massgoers during his June 7 Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
“How nice to see you this morning! Over these last three months, I have known that you are there, but it is nice to see some of you actually here with us this morning,” he added.
The bishop also described the work being completed at Maine churches after each Mass to keep those attending safe, including the sanitization of seats and pews, knobs, door handles, bathrooms, altars, musical equipment and other touched surfaces.
Claire Fitts, a parishioner of the Portland cathedral, called it “a great joy” to attend Mass in church. “This is the first time in ages that we’ve been able to be in church and see Jesus ourselves and receive Him.”
“As soon as the opening song started playing, I teared up. It was overwhelming to think about the past two months,” said Julie Ann Smyth, a member of Good Shepherd Parish in Biddeford, Maine. “To return to the pew and to be with others who share your love of your faith, it was just so special.”
Contributing to this story was the staff of Angelus, the online news platform of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.