Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., issued instructions for the reopening of churches in the Diocese of Trenton for private prayer only, following all public health guidelines. The reopening may happen as early as May 13, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, or once pastors determine they can safely do so.
In a statement released May 8, the Bishop quoted his religious community’s founder, St. Vincent DePaul, who said: “Wisdom consists in following Providence step by step. And you can be sure of the truth of a maxim which seems paradoxical, namely, that he who is hasty falls back in the interests of God.”
Acknowledging that “every faithful Catholic has been eagerly anticipating the day when we will be able to reopen our churches for prayer and worship,” Bishop O’Connell emphasized that, “It’s not just a matter of opening the door and ‘flipping the switch.’ Simply reopening churches for private prayer — even without Mass, sacraments, group prayer— must continue to incorporate some of the restrictions that we have become used to by now: no more than 10 people in a given space at the same time, wearing of masks in public, social distancing, etc.”
The Bishop stated that the Diocese of Trenton has carefully followed the “expert advice of experienced public health officials who have cautioned us not to rush into reopening churches to the faithful before their safety can be assured or, at least, uncompromised, in the face of this virulent contagion.”
He continued, “However, we realize that the current state of affairs cannot stay as it is forever without some spiritual relief.” To address the challenge, Bishop O’Connell recently created a task force of pastors and charged them with developing a phased approach that will move the Diocese “from the reopening of churches for private prayer to the gradual restoration of our full Catholic and sacramental life.”
Bishop O’Connell approved on May 8 the recommendations submitted by the task force for Phase One, “Reopening of Churches for Private Prayer,” which include two sets of directives – one common set for all parishes and one for individual pastors to adapt and implement in their parishes. The directives deal with such key matters as social distancing, the wearing of masks, limiting occupancy to 10 persons, hours of operation, seating, sanitization of churches and posting of information for parishioners. The full list of directives are available on dioceseoftrenton.org/coronavirus.
Selecting the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13) as the effective date of the reopening directives, Bishop O’Connell said, “We commend our efforts to Our Lady’s maternal care.”