Today, I participated in the livestream of Archbishop Gomez’s reconsecration of our nation to our Our Lady under the title of Mary, Mother of the Church. I hope you were able to participate as well. During this time of trial, the Blessed Mother offers us her gift of hope and protection.
As you know, Gov. Walz has extended his stay-at-home order until May 18. While making adjustments to his previous order, the governor did not make changes to guidelines regarding social settings and social distancing. Limits on public gatherings remain in place for now, including for places of worship. Gov. Walz indicated that these limits could be relaxed before May 18 depending on the virus’ progress and other public health indicators over the next few weeks.
In light of this information, I am keeping in place the suspension of all public Masses at this time – now until May 18, when the governor’s current order is set to expire. All Catholics are still dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
As I noted in my last letter to you, the process for resuming public worship in our churches will happen gradually in phases over time as restrictions on public gatherings are eased. I realize it is very painful for people not to be able to participate in Mass and pray in our churches. And, in light of steps the state is now taking to slowly open up the state, I believe we can begin to take small steps in the diocese as well. Therefore, I am allowing you to open your churches starting on Monday, May 4, for a limited number of hours each day for essential pastoral care and so people may participate in individual prayer and adoration.
You must adhere, however, to several important guidelines. Please read them in their entirety:
- Churches should be open for no more than 8 hours per day. You may choose hours that best meet the needs of the people in your area. You might also consider reserving special times for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus – the elderly and those with underlying health conditions – to limit their contact with others.
- Communicate clearly and frequently that anyone who is feeling ill should not come into the church. This includes the pastor.
- No more than 10 people may be inside the church at any one time. Pastors are responsible to assign a volunteer, staff member or other delegate to enforce this requirement.
- Social distancing guidelines must be observed. Individuals must be separated from one another by at least 6 feet.
- Hand sanitizer should be placed at the entrance of the church, and people should be encouraged to use it when they enter and leave.
- Pastors should designate with signs or other markings which pews in the church people may use for prayer/adoration. These pews must be cleaned/sanitized at the end of each day.
- If you offer adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, you or your delegate must be present for the duration of this time. Adoration should take place in the main body of the Church, not side or separate chapels.
I also want to address a few other matters:
- For those pastors who are livestreaming or recording private Masses for their parishioners, I encourage you to keep doing this. This is a wonderful ministry of worship and outreach during this time. Whether you are livestreaming your private Masses or not, please do so at a time when the church is locked to limit the risk of people entering and violating the group/social distancing limits. Reminder: Communion should not be distributed to anyone during these Masses; you may distribute Communion to those assisting with the Mass – but only after Mass has ended under the species of bread and in the hand.
- As I have noted previously, you may preside at weddings, but it must be done outside of Mass with no more than 10 people present. Also, I am now allowing you to preside at baptisms and funeral liturgies as needed. These can be done inside the church, but they must be done outside of Mass and with no more than 10 people present. This number includes the priest, ministers, funeral home personnel, family members, etc.
- Confessions should still be done by appointment only.
The health and safety of our people must be our first priority. I believe these measures will keep people safe while allowing them to begin again to worship in our churches.
I also encourage you to begin thinking about plans for the time when our churches will resume public Masses, which will require additional logistical preparations. I have been meeting with my brother bishops of Minnesota, and we are planning for this next phase of opening our churches. Our hope is to begin public Masses that observe all health and safety guidelines when the governor’s current order expires May 18. This is dependent, however, on any new health and safety requirements that may be issued by state or federal health authorities.
I am currently consulting with my staff, health authorities, and Minnesota’s other bishops to compose guidelines for our parishes to follow for reopening more broadly. I will send them to you when they are completed. Before the time we would resume public Masses and other activities, I will require every parish to submit a plan to me for reopening for public Masses that outlines how it will be done in accordance with my guidelines and keeping parishioners’ safety as the top priority.
Thank you to the pastors who responded to my request for feedback on a process for reopening our churches. Your responses were very helpful. If you have any questions, please contact Fr. Rolfes at 320-251-2340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud