CHARLESTON—Church bells will be ringing and doors will be open to welcome people back to Mass, which will soon be celebrated publicly for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic forced parishioners to watch from home instead.
In a letter to the faithful dated May 2, Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone announced that the public will once again be able to attend Masses around the diocese beginning with daily Mass on May 11. The first vigil and Sunday Masses open to the public will be held on the weekend of May 16-17.
The last time priests celebrated Mass in front of congregations was on March 15.
“As society moves forward with the reopening of public spaces, we must ensure that the Diocese of Charleston does all that it can to provide for your spiritual needs and to welcome you home,” Bishop Guglielmone said in his letter. “Our primary goal is to approach the lifted restrictions with great care, keeping the safety of all our parishioners and our clergy at the forefront of our decision-making.”
Other sacraments will resume as well after May 11, but all will come with special requirements and restrictions to assure the safety of both clergy and lay people.
Bishop Guglielmone said that pastors and parish administrators will develop plans to carry on with parish operations under guidelines that have been set forth by the diocese based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). He said the diocesan guidelines were also set up with guidance from state government mandates and recommendations from other dioceses that have already resumed public Mass.
There will be limits on how many people can attend a Mass at one time, as well as social distancing requirements and escalated sanitation and cleanliness practices in every church. Pastors and administrators will have until May 10 to present their plans to the diocese for approval and to receive the greenlight on opening.
Bishop Guglielmone also noted that he continues to offer a dispensation from attending weekend Mass to the elderly, the medically compromised and those who simply feel uncomfortable returning to Mass in person. All parishes that have been offering Mass via live stream have been asked to continue at least through Pentecost.
“We are all hungry to receive the sacraments once again,” Bishop Guglielmone said. “This time away from the Eucharist has been painful.”
Priests from around the diocese echoed that sentiment.
Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary Church in Greenville and dean of the Greenville Deanery, said the news was “magnificent” to hear after an eight-week stretch of celebrating Mass without a congregation present.
“Celebrating Mass for those weeks without a congregation was a deep sadness for priests, yet we knew that the sacrifice was needed in order to save lives,” Father Newman said. “I’ve been contacted by many people who have expressed how much they have wanted to be able to get back to receive the Lord Jesus through the Eucharist, and now they will be able to.”
Oratorian Father Fabio Refosco, pastor of St. Philip Neri Church in Fort Mill and dean of the Rock Hill Deanery, said the weeks away from celebrating Mass before his congregation were challenging for him. Father Refosco said he is a 54-year-old “cradle Catholic from Brazil” who even during his teens and college years never went without Mass for more than two weeks.
“I could only try to comprehend the pain and distress of the faithful if I hadn’t been allowed to preside at Mass (via live stream) every day,” he said. “I learned, however, through letters, cards and phone calls that they really missed celebrating Mass together as a community. When we return, I hope to encounter the faithful remembering that we are bearers of the Good News and we are blessed because we kept the faith during this difficult time.”