Bishop Flores announces Masses to return; Church doors will reopen Monday

The cathedral is nearly empty of worshipers as the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville livestreams the Easter Mass for those at home Sunday at Immaculate Conception Cathedral.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Bishop Daniel E. Flores, of the Catholic of Diocese of Brownsville, announced on Friday that churches will reopen on Monday and that there will be strict protocols to follow in keeping with recommendations of health officials.

The protocols include practicing social distancing, the mandatory wearing of face masks and parishoners will be required to disinfect their hands as they enter and leave the church. Flores said there will special instructions for receiving Holy Communion.

Churches in the Brownsville diocese had been closed since noon on March 19, following directives from Flores who ordered them shut because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to make that decision for the good of all,” Flores said during a Friday afternoon press conference.

The bishop’s announcement came the same day that President Donald Trump deemed churches “essential” and called on governors across the United States to reopen them this weekend. He said if governors didn’t abide by his request he will “override” them, The Associated Press reported.

In his letter to members of the Catholic Diocese, Flores said he made the decision “After communication with local civil and health officials, and with close attention to the advisories of state and federal government officials, and after continuous consultation with the deans in the eight deaneries that comprise the Diocese of Brownsville, and with countless others, laity, clergy and religious.”

At Friday’s press conference, Flores was quick to point out that when parishoners return to their churches next week, the churches will be different. Instead of the priest there to greet them at the doors, it will be ushers to direct them in to the church and where to sit.

“Usually the priest is at the door… at the beginning of the Mass or after the Mass welcoming the people and saying goodbye, but that is not going to happen,” Flores said.

Signs will also be posted outside the church doors that will state parishoners need to wear either a facial covering or face mask in order to enter the church.

Churches in the Brownsville diocese announced on their Facebook pages that their parishes would reopen on Monday. A message on Our Lady of Good Counsel Church of Brownsville page stated “Good News. Thanks God we are having public masses again. MAY 25TH.” Father Alejandro Flores, of Saint Anthony Catholic Church in Harlingen, shared the bishop’s letter on his personal page.

Flores said he strongly urges the elderly, people who suffer from complicated medical conditions or feel sick to stay home. “It is very important.” “If you do not currently feel safe going out, even to Mass, stay at home.”

He said the dispensation of the Catholic faithful from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect. The diocese will continue to live stream Masses on its Facebook Page for those who choose to remain at home. According to the letter, occupancy at any Mass will be limited by the fact that only every other pew will be used for seating, and six feet apart will be observed between family groups and individuals. Flores said in most cases the occupancy for Mass will be less than 50 percent.

Flores said he has given the pastors the authority to judge if their particular parish has the needed supplies that will them to open on Monday. “Our pastors are working very hard to get ready. I am asking people to be very patient.”

He said if a particular parish is not ready to implement the necessary protocols, they should not open until they are. He added that some parishes may find it necessary to adjust Mass schedules to allow for time to clean and disinfect the church after each Mass.

In addition, Flores said adoration chapels will remain closed, confessions may not be heard in enclosed spaces where there is no room for social distancing and parish offices can open but only if office staff have space to practice social distancing and can disinfect hands and surfaces frequently. Mask should be used in any area where the public or coworkers are present. Small meetings can also take place on parish premises, provided the protocols indicated are observed.

“As we proceed, we must be vigilant and alert. We do not know what the future holds, but we maintain our home in God ‘who so loved the world that gave his only Son.’ The reopening of our churches is a cause of great joy” Flores said.

“It will help us once again as a community that we can draw close to the Lord,” the bishop said.