In a June 6 letter, Bishop Salvatore R. Matano updated the faithful on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that afternoon that churches throughout the Diocese of Rochester will be permitted to reopen at up to 25 percent occupancy as early as June 7.
The bishop called the governor’s announcement progress toward reinstating “the rights of the faithful to worship” following the March 16 suspension of public Masses in compliance with state orders aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Cuomo made the announcement Saturday afternoon during his daily coronavirus briefing, saying that places of worship will be permitted to reopen with 25 percent occupancy and all social distancing protocols in place during phase two of the New York Forward plan. Seven regions of the state — including all of the Diocese of Rochester — have reached this phase of reopening.
Bishop Matano described as “difficult and painful” the decision to comply with New York state regulations restricting public gatherings, including public worship. “Over the last five weeks, we have worked with the State’s administration, seeking information and guidance about where churches and houses of worship fall within the State’s 4-phase New York Forward plan.
“We submitted to the governor’s administration ‚Ä¶ the appropriate measures to be taken for the administration of the Sacraments in a prudent manner,” the bishop continued. “It appears these efforts have produced some results.”
Bishop Matano wrote that he had published on the diocesan website instructions for parishes to prepare for the celebration of the sacraments with more than the previously allowed 10 worshippers present, while taking all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Based on input from several sources, “It is apparent that we can publicly worship in a church in a manner that is worthy of God and also prudent to safeguard the well-being of our brothers and sisters. This is what our parishes are able to do with twenty-five (25) percent occupancy,” he wrote.
Due to late notice the afternoon of June 6, diocesan parishes may not be ready to take immediate advantage of Cuomo’s announcement, acknowledged diocesan spokesman Doug Mandelaro. He said parishioners should consult their parishes to learn when they plan to resume public Masses.
Due to the continuing prevalence of coronavirus and the fact that some parishes may not yet be prepared to immediately begin Masses with the faithful present, Bishop Matano again emphasized in his June 6 letter that “the dispensation to attend Sunday Mass will remain until further notice.”
“It is my prayer and hope that as we progress with gradual, yet determined efforts to make Holy Mass and the Sacraments available to more of the faithful, the State will give just consideration for the place of prayer and worship in our society,” the bishop wrote. “I renew my desire to work cooperatively with State official in the days ahead.”
He concluded by asking the faithful to join him in prayer for those who long to encounter Jesus Christ in the sacraments; those who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus; those who serve in health care and those working to find a vaccine through morally acceptable means; and to agencies, workers and volunteers serving the community.