The road map says that the sacraments are essential for Catholics, and argues that “churches can operate as safely as other essential services,” as long as care is taken to form and follow careful plans.
Safety protocols should be created with the help of medical experts and may need to be adjusted over time, it says, to reflect the changing realities and medical recommendations in a given area.
The document calls for Mass to be held with social distancing and the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Singing should be avoided, and those who are ill or believe they may have been exposed to the virus should stay home, it says.
It calls for confessions to be held in outdoor or well-ventilated indoor areas, with the use of masks, an impermeable barrier between the priest and penitent, and frequent sanitization of surfaces.
As the novel coronavirus spread in March, all U.S. Catholic dioceses curtailed public Masses to prevent the spread of the disease. However, beginning in mid-April, dioceses have begun resuming the offering of public Masses.
At a Friday press briefing, Trump said that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would, at his direction, be issuing new guidance for churches to reopen. He said he was identifying houses of worship as “essential,” although a source familiar with the deliberations told CNA that the label is not an official designation by the administration.
Trump’s announcement comes after the CDC reportedly drafted guidance for reopening businesses, churches, and other places of public accommodation earlier this month. On May 7, however, the AP reported that the Trump administration had shelved a 17-page CDC report that included an “Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith.”
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the White House pushed against the CDC issuing guidance for churches, with the concern that it did not want to unnecessarily limit the freedom of churches.
Critics of the decision have argued that church gatherings could result in additional outbreaks of the coronavirus, which has led to more than 93,000 deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.
However, Wang said that he thinks careful guidelines can aid in efforts to prudently reopen churches. He told CNA that he finds Trump’s announcement “very encouraging.”
“I think those of us who are Catholic would probably view attending Mass as essential,” he commented.
The guidelines laid out in the “Road Map to Re-Opening our Catholic Churches Safely” are the fruit of careful consideration, he said. They address the major points that are currently known about the transmission of the coronavirus.
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In implementing the guidelines, he said, parishes will need to take local context into account. For example, a large suburban church with a sizable parking lot may be able to hold an outdoor Mass, while an urban church may find it more difficult to do so.
He also noted that the road map is “a document made by doctors, not by liturgists, so the considerations are really purely medical” and may need to be adapted as deemed appropriate by Church authorities.
In developing the document, Wang said, “what we spent the lion share of our time on was the Eucharist, because that is a bit of special case that the grocery store or Walmart may not have.”
“The moment where you take the host, that presented really a special challenge…This was discussed at length, so that we all had a consensus on what would be safest practices for that particular moment.”
Ultimately, the group of doctors concluded that the safest recommendation is to receive communion in the hand rather than on the tongue.
Wang referenced a recent study showing it is much easier to pick up the virus from saliva than a nasal swab.