Moving Towards a New Normal at St. Thomas Aquinas

These days that we are in have been very very difficult and as we go through them we are hearing of the possibilities of the church opening for public masses once again here in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I am going to just list a few of those things for your consideration and your prayerful understanding.  Without promising any dates for reopening or public masses let me just go through them in a random but important manner.  

  1. We have not received a final word nor a date but certainly have been given some ideas of some of the “new normal” that we will experience when churches are again opened for public masses. One of the things that is so very, very important for us to remember is that things will NOT be the same coming back.  There will be differences that will be very noticeable and inconvenient.  
  2. It will be expected that anyone who comes to church will be wearing a mask throughout the Mass.  
  3. It will be expected that we will not use missalettes or hymn books.  It will be expected that we will not have choirs singing, nor much (or Any!) singing during the Mass, as that (singing) has been determined to be one of the fastest manners to spread the virus!   
  4. We are also asked to space the occupancy of the pews out and to make sure that if families are living in the same home they can occupy the same pew, but even if we’re from the same family and not living in the same home we are not able to sit in the same pew.  It will be incumbent on us to be mindful of the 6 feet social distancing in our reception of communion.  
  5. The reception of communion continues to be encouraged “in hand”.  We would try our very, very best to accommodate those who are not able to receive, for whatever reasons, in their hand.  But, for the sake of EVERONE’S health, reception of Holy Communion in the hand would be STRONGLY encouraged for now.
  6. Collection baskets would NOT be passed around during Mass.  They will be in a stationary location in Church for use.  
  7. We are going to be an asked to be very, very mindful of the necessity of cleaning and sanitizing Surfaces that are touched.  That is just not “cleaning” but actually “sanitizing” the areas that we are occupying before anyone would come in to our church for the next Mass.  That’s going to require a major effort on our part to make sure that the spaces are clean … bathrooms, door handles, pews, etc., anything that is touched by us or our family.  
  8. To ensure that all is clean and sanitized BEFORE the next group comes in for the next Mass will be a tremendous challenge!  We are not sure how well we can do this with the time allotted in our present Mass.  (Will this necessitate a change in the present Mass schedule?) 
  9. Guidelines are being offered for the GRADUAL opening of the churches for public Masses.  There are suggested safe percentages that are being offered in different Dioceses for attendance at the Masses.  Some suggest 30% of your total seating capacity, others 25% of your total seating capacity, still others 50% of your total seating capacity.  Then that number of people would be the number admitted to that particular Mass!  With that in mind (though we do NOT have the exact percentage yet!), it would be the maximum of people they could attend/enter for a particular service/Mass.  That could very well mean there would be some people coming to church, with the best of intentions, and even with the help of their family members driving them, … they could arrive at the church door and NOT be able to enter!!!!!  Here the good of the whole would take precedent over our wish to assist at Mass that particular day.  
  10. We are almost positive that the dispensation given by our Archbishop for not attending weekend Mass will remain in effect for some time into the future. But it is very important for us, as individuals, to check our own health to make sure that we’re not putting ourselves or others in jeopardy by trying to attend Mass in poor health!  WE are not called to fulfill our ”Sunday Mass obligation” and perhaps do damage to ourselves and others by attending a public service when our own health is not good.  
  11. We are looking at lots and lots of different challenges as we go forward.  “It” will be “gradual”, whatever is done here at St. Thomas Aquinas.  It will not be “business as usual”.  It will be a gradual opening up of the celebrations.  Weddings, Funerals, Baptisms, Quinceneras…….. those services will be limited in the number of people able to attend.  The numbers being suggested 10 – 12 people etc. vary, but we’re not sure yet and will have to see how that will go. 

I want you to be aware that we are coming into a new phase in a new chapter as a Faith Community at St. Thomas Aquinas.  And to be “one” around the Table of the Lord (our altar!) as we move forward requires that there will changes, limitations and adjustments!  Some of which are not comfortable and some very difficult for us.  But, with a GREAT deal of respect and confidence in YOU, I/we ask your understanding and your prayerful consideration of yourself, your family and all of those that you would be worshiping with at St. Thomas Aquinas.  

To keep everyone safe we’re going to try to insist on all of the guidelines that our Federal, State or Local government asks……and especially our own Archbishop.  We are also trying to hear from our parishioners as to “HOW” we can best move onto these “phases-to-come” in the re-opening of our church for public services.  A strong parish “Committee” is needed to develop and supervise the steps to be taken to ensure health for all.  The need to respect our own needs, those of our families and the Community at large ALL play a part in the decisions to come.  Staying healthy and being able to respect the rights of others as well as our own will challenge us!  With that in mind, I want to put these words out for you and your prayerful consideration.  

There are certainly things that we’re going to have to be working with that are new and strange. Believing that we are not “orphans”, but rather recipients of the Holy Spirit, we can and move through all this confident that GOD is with us!!!  THEN we will be able to move out of this “dark tunnel” caused by the pandemic and move into the “light”…. in the Presence of the Risen Christ ………individually and in community!   So, we move forward with trust and confidence in God‘s love for us.  We take into consideration the suggestions of reasonable people and reasonable institutions to maintain our own health and the health of our community …….and we go forward in faith that God will be with us in the celebration of the Eucharist… whether we can be physically present or simply spiritually present in the days and months ahead!  

In the meantime, stay safe, stay well.  We pray with you and for you and I will try to use this forum to keep you abreast of things as they change.  I think the changes will be coming, we just don’t know how quickly.   But again, I would want to repeat the word “gradual”.  And that WE will be as comfortable as we can be with that word!  

God bless you and keep you and yours.  I/we will be in touch.   Bye for now. Happy Feast of Pentecost and belated Happy Feast of the Ascension of our Lord!  May God’s blessings be on you and your family and loved ones… bye for now 

Fr. Shields