Limited Mass, No Choirs: NY Archdiocese Plans Restricted Return to Worship

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York wants to be included in the state's "Phase 2" reopening guidelines with professional services and retail

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Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of New York may look very different when they re-open for worship, with strict restrictions on the number of attendees and their contact with others.

That's according to a proposal the archdiocese released Thursday, one it says is designed to comply with CDC recommendations and help get houses of worship open again as soon as possible.

NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already permitted religious gatherings of up to 10 people as of Thursday. But that's a far step from the full reopening of religious facilities, for which there is still no timetable.

"We believe that public worship can continue to take place safely in an era of social distancing," the archdiocese said in the introduction to its "Faith Forward" plan.

The three-page plan covers virtually all aspects of church life, from Mass attendance (no more than 25 percent of a church's capacity), to liquid contact (empty holy water and baptismal fonts, dry communion), to music (yes to cantors, no to large choirs) and even collections (no passing baskets from person to person, but ushers can use baskets with long handles).

Confessions will be held outdoors or in a more open space wherever possible, pews will be marked off with tape to ensure safe distances are maintained, and Catholic churches plan to open first for private prayer before allowing small groups for weddings, baptisms and funerals. An official, traditional Sunday Mass or service may still be weeks away, however.

"Houses of worship are essential services for the well-being of our people," Cardinal Timothy Dolan said. Nicholas Anthony DiMarzio, the Bishop for the Archdiocese of Brooklyn, said that because the city is in such a different position infection-wise than the upper parts of the state, churches have to be more careful in what they do to ensure the risk of spread is as minimal as possible.

The archdiocese says it wants to be grouped in with Phase 2 of the state's staggered reopening approach, which includes professional and retail services. As of yet, its territory has not even entered Phase 1, suggesting any reopening would still be weeks away.

Other places of worship are in no rush to reopen. Rabbi Rachel Ain of the Sutton Place Synagogue said they have had a positive response to the virtual services they've hosted, and they will continue that for now — with in-person services likely months away.

"One of the core values in Judaism is saving lives and being healthy, and if that means delaying the physical connection, we're going to do that for now," Ain said.

Gov. Cuomo is also asking places of worship to consider drive-up or parking lot services where possible.

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