Roman Catholic churches in the Diocese of Trenton, which oversees worship throughout Ocean County, will reopen for private prayer, allowing small numbers of people inside churches.
The churches will not be open for traditional daily or weekend Masses. According to diocesan spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett, the limited reopening may happen as early as May 13, which is celebrated by the Catholic church as the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, or once pastors determine they can safely do so.
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 David M. O’Connell emphasized in a statement 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 diocese has leaned on the advice of public health officials in making the decision to open for private prayer with 10 or fewer people in a church building at a time, but not for large Masses. The safety of worshipers would be “uncompromised,” the Bishop said.
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 at dioceseoftrenton.org/coronavirus.
“We realize that the current state of affairs cannot stay as it is forever without some spiritual relief,” said O’Connell.
The bishop 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.”