Pastor’s Piece – SSM Open for Public Masses

Pastor’s Piece – May 30, 2020

In accord with the Governor Northam’s and Bishop Burbidge’s permission, we are going public this Sunday at St. Stephen the Martyr Church. As you know this is not back to normal. There are many new instructions. Due to the constant barrage of information these past two months there are many who suffer from anxiety. As a consequence they may regard certain present instructions as a matter of life and death and falsely think that to depart from such guidelines is to actually place one’s wellbeing in mortal danger. The following graph I find helpful for perspective.

Such information does not give license to ignore prudent guidelines, yet those who equate such guidelines with the gravity we should have toward mortal sin are not welcome to make a fuss. If you or those for whom you care are vulnerable to infection or the serious effects of coronavirus, please, stay at home. Those who are “vulnerable” are over the age of sixty five (once more, no i.d. needed), those who have existing heart or lung conditions, have diabetes, and or are otherwise immune-compromised. Others who should consider staying home are those who simply feel sick.

Bishop Burbidge expects facemasks to be worn and Governor Northam’s rules regarding such practice are clear about their use at church. Nevertheless those not wearing mask should not receive our reproach. The following are from the governor’s Executive Order 63:

  • A – 6 “Face coverings may be removed to participate in a religious ritual.”
  • D 6 – “Nothing in this Order shall require the use of a face covering by any person for whom doing so would be contrary to his or her health or safety because of a medical condition. Any person who declines to wear a face covering because of a medical condition shall not be required to produce or carry medical documentation verifying the stated condition nor shall the person be required to identify the precise underlying medical condition.”

While the facemask maybe de rigueur, the bishop gives me permission to not wear mine. Nevertheless I shall don one for the distribution of Holy Communion.

In compliance with Executive Order 63 and the integration of Phase 1, we have permission to fill our church to 50% capacity. The reality is that we will no where near approach 140 persons seated (maybe if you count the guardian angels who attend to us). Once we calculate social distancing measures as currently recommended, we can expect a minimum of 20 people in the nave. If persons arrive from the same household or vehicle we could have up to 48 people in church. So, we must sit six feet apart from individuals, unless from the same house or car, and sit six feet from the aisles. Look for the dark blue tape on the floor to of the pews. Sit between them.

The nave is not the only venue. We can seat minimally 4 and possibly 16 in the narthex. In the parish hall I’ve placed 30 seats and two pews where we could possibly have 38 people. Along with the speaker in the parish hall, I’ll be broadcasting the Mass on FaceTime. I don’t think that there is a county code that regulates how many can sit outdoors. Social distancing and one’s ability to hear the outdoor speaker system may be the only factors that determine the number that gathers there. There will be 30 chairs available and weather permitting the front doors of the church will be open. Or feel free to sit in your car and tune into 89.5 FM “The Martyr”. Please note, the procedure has changed for those attending Mass via vehicle. At the time for Holy Communion, I invite you to approach the altar rail.

We are expected to disinfect our hands for things like Holy Communion. I’ll have some hand sanitizing stations available. You are welcome to BYOB. If you wish you may bring an empty bottle for some home brew, small batch Holy Water. This newly controlled substance is in the usher’s closet. Help yourself. Remember that the password is “Wuhan”.

Besides the fact that there is no longer an obligation to attend Mass (until further notice), there are some changes to the Mass:

  • No holding hands during the Lord’s Prayer.
  • No exchange of peace.
  • No distribution of the Precious Blood.
  • Only Priests & Deacons distribute Communion.
  • Only those in a state of grace may receive Communion, but those who have health concerns are not obliged.
  • One is encouraged to disinfect his hands immediately before receiving Communion.
  • Please maintain social distancing in the Communion line.
  • One retains the right to decide how to receive, whether on the tongue or in the hand.
  • Holy Communion cannot be received in the hand with gloves.
  • I am to disinfect my hand immediately if accidental contact is made with a communicant.

Procedures at SSM to be aware of:

  • Ushers will maintain roughly the 140 person number and social distancing in the church. Please, follow their instructions.
  • All this social distancing allows for extra people to enter the church to receive Holy Communion. I invite those attending in the church nave, narthex, front porch and parking lot to come to Communion at the altar rail.
    • Please, queue up single-file in the main aisle.
    • Follow the tape markers on the floor for the spot to wait.
  • Regarding the altar rail:
    • There are six Communion stations.
    • They provide proper spacing, time for preparation and recollection, and speed.
      • Each properly spaced Communion station at the rail has a pad for kneeling.
      • One has the option to receive standing or kneeling but the pad is the location from which to communicate.
      • One may receive on the hand or on the tongue regardless of posture.
      • Look for tape on the floor for guidance as to where to stand while waiting for the communicant ahead to receive.
    • Wearing a mask for Holy Communion will require extra time that the altar rail provides, such as:
      • The removal and reapplying of masks.
      • A moment extra to recollect oneself for the great unique privilege of sacramentally receiving Our Lord.
      • I ask that the mask be lowered from one’s mouth when I present the Eucharist.
        • It would be impossible to receive Holy Communion on the tongue if it isn’t.
        • For those receiving on the hand, I fear that one may drop the Sacred Host while engaging in this unfamiliar action of holding the Sacred Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior in one hand and deftly extricating one’s mask with the other hand.
      • Counter-intuitively the altar rail will be faster because I am the one moving and therefore the whole congregation doesn’t depend on the speed of one individual communicant.
    • Those in the parish hall, please, wait for me to bring Communion to you at your place.

I’m obliged to disinfect the church and hall after each Mass. Volunteers are welcome. We need to wipe down pews and chairs after Mass to prepare for the next one. Lamentably this may cut into the time of those who prefer a lengthier thanksgiving after Mass. Please, be flexible. We are trying to serve as many as possible.

In compliance with the bishop’s instructions that the church be well ventilated I am opening the windows and doors this Sunday. The forecast appears very amendable to such a practice, but I don’t know for how long we can keep that up.

In preparation for Mass this Sunday, look for a QR code posted outside of the church and on our website. This will provide your smartphone with the lyrics to the hymns that we’ll be using. In addition we have limited disposable copies of these hymns printed for your use.

Mass times for Pentecost, May 31: 8:00 & 10:00am in English and 12:30pm in Spanish. There is no Saturday evening Mass of anticipation for Sunday. Daily Mass will resume at its scheduled time of 8:30am with the addition of Saturday morning Mass (8:30am). Also, we’ll return to Wednesday evening Mass at 6:30 in Spanish before the Eucharistic Holy Hour starting at 7:00.


Christ’s Peace,

Fr. Murphy