Catholics in Connecticut expected to return to Mass in person, bishops say

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The dispensation from the obligation to attend weekend Masses will expire, Archbishop Leonard P. Blair said Monday.

The obligation will be reinstated beginning May 22 in the Archdiocese of Hartford, as well as the Dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich.

“We have lived through an extraordinary year filled with personal challenges, fears, and sufferings caused by the pandemic,” the three bishops wrote, in a pastoral letter. “At the same time we have been encouraged by the heroism of health care workers and first responders, the creativity of our pastors, and the kindness of neighbors and friends who by their love and service peeled back the darkness which at times threatened to overwhelm us.

“Now that there are clear signs the pandemic is loosening its grip on our lives, we come to you in confidence to take the next step in reestablishing our ecclesial life as a community of faith. … In light of these positive developments, we believe the time has come to review the importance that full participation at Mass has for the spiritual life of all believers and offer a heartfelt appeal for all Catholics to return to the Sunday celebration of Mass in person.”

The letter was signed by Blair, Bridgeport Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote and Hartford Auxiliary Bishop Juan Miguel Betancourt.

The dispensation was implemented March 16, 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and was extended several times. May 23 is the feast of Pentecost, often considered the birth of the church.

Not everyone is ready to go back to church, however. Ann Tramontana-Veno of New Haven, who has attended St. Joseph Church in New Haven and St. Rita Church in Hamden, said she still believes there is too much risk in lifting the attendance and social-distancing restrictions.

“My feeling is, churches are old buildings and their ventilation system is not good,” she said. “I guess I don’t trust other people. I have spoken to fan awul lot of people who don’t intend to get vaccinated at all,” and there’s no way to tell whether someone sitting nearby has been vaccinated.

“I would not want to be in a congregation where someone is actually singing next to me,” Tramonatana-Veno said. “It’s just close quarters. ... It’s an obligation, but there is in there the exception for somebody whose health is compromised or is homebound and such. I don’t need to go into the building to practice my faith. I practice my faith every day and I don’t need to be around others from my faith community to do that.”

Harriet Hyde of Hamden, who is coordinator of St. Rita’s food pantry, also said she doesn’t believe it’s time to lift the dispensation from attending weekly Mass.

“I think that they should extend it for a little bit longer. We’re still not out of the woods yet as far as I’m concerned,” she said. “The churches ... will be very crowded if people are going back to church and I still think they should still do social distancing in the churches.”

Emily Clark, a member of St. Theresa Parish in Trumbull, said her family returned to church when it was reopened and has felt safe and comfortable.

“I think the bishop was very welcoming and reassuring and encouraging in his message,” she said. “I think we have to start going back to living again,” which for Catholics means returning to Mass.

“I just feel like the churches are filling up again,” Clark said. “Easter was wonderful. It felt as normal as it could be.”

The Rev. Martin Curtin, pastor at St. Pius X Church in Middletown, said he agrees it’s time to let the dispensation expire.

“We’re doing things to make ourselves ready,” he said. “We’re doing some stepping down in terms of restriction so we can accommodate folks. ... Even as we loosen it up, we’re still maintaining the atmosphere that inspires confidence.”

Curtin said there still would be no congregational singing at St. Pius X and that the choir is in a loft. “Singing is one of the most explosive things to do as far as aerosol stuff, which is hard because singing is a wonderful way of praying,” he said.

The Rev. Jeffrey Gubbiotti, pastor of Church of the Assumption in Ansonia, said, “I’m certainly excited to welcome people back to Mass.” He said more had been coming, especially since Easter. “It feels like a reunion after a long time of being able to come back together.”

But he added, “there’s definitely different levels of comfort within our parishes and a wide variety of people with their comfort levels, and each person has to make their own risk assessment. I don’t think everybody will be ready to come back right away.”

In-person weekday Masses were allowed as of June 8, 2020 in the Archdiocese of Hartford and weekend Masses on July 4-5, with social distancing and other guidelines. At first, churches could be filled to 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever was smaller. However, Catholics were not required to attend.

The Diocese of Norwich also allowed weekday Masses in person as of June 8, 2020 and weekend Masses July 4-5. The Diocese of Bridgeport allowed indoor worship July 13-14.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Catholics have an obligation to attend Mass each Sunday and holy day of obligation, except when age or health prevent it. The vigil Mass on Saturday afternoon is considered part of the Sunday obligation. The letter excused those with COVID or other illnesses, those who have preexisting conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID, being in quarantine or being a caregiver of someone who is ill.

Also, restrictions on attendance in church and celebration of Mass will be lifted, including allowing 100 percent capacity. Those coming to church still will be expected to to wear masks and continue precautions when taking Communion, Blair announced. Congregational and choir singing will be allowed and pew barriers and taped marking may be removed.

edward.stannard@hearstmediact.com; 203-680-9382