Massing in the Covid-19 era

When I celebrated mass publicly for the first time in almost four months on Tuesday 7th July, which happened to be my 47th anniversary of priesthood, I did something for the very first time at mass in those 47 years of priesting – wore a visor to give out communion.

Liverpool Archdiocese has been meticulous in laying down practical rules and regulations to enable mass to be celebrated during the covid-19 era. The aim is to provide as secure a situation as possible to maintain high standards of mutual health and safety. Each parish had to fill in a risk assessment, and be approved, before public worship could re-start after lockdown of churches way back in March.

Clearly, there has to be a sufficient number of stewards to welcome and oversee, to clean the church before and after, to maintain a two metre space between worshippers, to create a one-way system, to see to it that all have masks, and to ensure that everyone has hands sanitised before and after mass.

This affects certain aspects of celebrating mass, as a “new normal” has to be introduced. There is no sign of peace, and individuals coming up to receive holy communion have to have their sacred space maintained, and communion may only be received in the hand. The priest has to sanitise his hands before and after communion, and wear a visor whilst distributing communion. And, should there be touch accidentally between priest and communicant, the priest has to stop and re-sanitise before approaching the next communicant. Here in Liverpool we are asked to give out communion at the very end of mass, after the final blessing.

When a few churches were able to open for private prayer in mid-June we here at SFX were among them, and, after suitable risk assessment and practical measures, decided to have a quiet Holy Hour at lunch time on Mondays and Thursdays, at the time when we would usually be celebrating mass. When we began public masses again on Monday 6th July, here at SFX in Liverpool we asked to have masses for the moment on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 12 noon. Provided we can get enough stewards, we hope fairly soon to have mass at 12 noon on Saturdays, and in due course hopefully also at 10.15 on Sundays.

Blog by Fr Denis Blackledge SJ, priest at St Francis Xavier Church in Liverpool