NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – As parts of New York State begin to reopen, houses of worship remain closed.
But starting today, restrictions are beginning to ease and they can at least open their doors to some people.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan outlined preparations Thursday for the reopening of 288 churches, upon the approval of health and state officials.
The reopening will happen in phases:
- Phase I – Churches Open for Private Prayer and Confessions
- Phase II – Celebration of Baptisms and Marriages (limited to 10 attendees)
- Phase III – Celebration of the Rite of Distributing Holy Communion Outside of Mass
- Phase IV – Celebration of Daily and Funeral Masses with Limited Attendance
- Phase V – Celebration of Sunday Mass with Supervised Attendance
- Resumption of Full Parish Mass Schedules and Sacramental Activities
Speaking at a news conference, religious leaders indicated there would be changes to start: No distribution of Holy Communion, Holy water and baptismal fonts will be emptied, and there will be distribution of masks at churches, for example. Churches will be regularly sanitized and disinfected. Signage will be placed on entrance doors instructing anyone with fever or flu-like symptoms not to enter the church. Parishioners must wear masks. Maximum occupancy will be 25% of capacity. Hand sanitizer will be available at the entrance of the church.
To read the full list of changes, CLICK HERE.
Dolan said that initial steps to reopening will be comparatively easy to arrange, until the time comes to reopen for Sunday Mass, which he speculated might be at least six weeks or so from now in New York City.
“Next week, at least the churches will be physically open for prayers and visits,” Dolan said.
Dolan said small ceremonies like baptisms and weddings would be considered.
WEB EXTRA: Read the reopening plans (.pdf)
“We’re working with religious institutions. Right now, they can have up to 10 people with strict social distancing guidelines at religious gatherings,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.
The governor said he’d like to see if religious institutions can get creative.
“We’ve asked them to consider drive-in and parking lot services for religious ceremonies,” he said.
Cuomo said he’s working with an interfaith advisory council made up of representatives of all different religious communities across the state. He said he understands people want to get back to places of worship, but they have to be smart about reopening.
“I think even at this time of stress and when people are so anxious and so confused, I think those religious ceremonies can be very comforting,” he said. “But we need to find out how to do it and do it safely.”
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Across the river in New Jersey, the Archdiocese of Newark opened to private prayer over the weekend. For now, there are no masses and schedules vary from church to church.
“It’s important that we move forward,” said Rev. John Paladino. “But at the same time acknowledging that our faith in God is important and that we need to come to Him in times of turmoil, trial and tribulation.”
The governor reiterated the important of wearing a mask during services, saying it’s required if people want to participate.