The Catholic bishops of Minnesota have joined with the Minnesota Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, to challenge state restrictions and reopen churches in the coming weeks. Archbishop Bernard Hebda, of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, announced in a press conference yesterday that a letter has been sent to Governor Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison urging them to “treat houses of worship equally and allow them to reopen alongside retailers and non-essential businesses.”
Archbishop Hebda stopped by The Drew Mariani Show™ yesterday to discuss this decision to defy state restrictions, and his plan for opening up churches in Minnesota.
Drew pointed out that in Minnesota, “Retail stores, casinos, malls, tattoo parlors, and a whole litany of other businesses can open right up to 50% capacity. But churches are only allowed to have 10 people in them.”
Archbishop Hebda and his brother bishops have told the governor that they plan to open churches with no more than one-third of the seating capacity, and will have a number of protocols in place to promote health and safety .
Archbishop Hebda told Drew, “We’ve certainly had lots of positive support, but there are also people that are really concerned, especially if they don’t know what we’re doing, the strict nature of our protocols, and they’re concerned about putting people at risk. And so we’re trying to reassure them that we’re certainly mindful of the devastating nature of this virus.”
“We want to make sure that people are able to be safe,” he affirmed. “But at the same time, we really feel that duty to minister to the faithful of our state. And that requires us to be able to celebrate Mass. Certainly for these first eight weeks, we’ve been very much in tune with the governor’s advice, and it’s only become difficult now when so many other institutions are being reopened.”
Giving some examples of the safety procedures that will accompany church reopening, Archbishop Hebda said, “What they’re going to be doing is roping off two out of every three pews. So already you get some distance that way. And then also having the ushers direct people, so that if they’re not from the same household they’re maintaining that six foot distance. And then there are also going to be some revisions for how we receive Communion, depending on the size of the crowd that’s there. Some doors are just going to be for entering, other doors for exiting. We want to make sure there aren’t any pile ups at the doors.”
And while churches will be reopening for public Masses, Mass will look a little different than it did before the pandemic.
“We have a beautiful musical program at the cathedral, and we said that in this critical time we would not be favoring congregational singing,” explained Archbishop Hebda. “We would be limiting things to a cantor. So there are all kinds of accommodations, and we’re reminding our priests to keep things simple and basic.”
But although public Mass has been approved by the bishops, it is being approved as an option, not a requirement for the faithful.
“We’re not requiring our churches to open,” Archbishop Hebda clarified. “We’re giving them that possibility. Each pastor is going to be responsible, and we’re saying that they have to be able to meet the safety standards. We’re also saying to continue all the other programs that you’ve begun in this time, because there are going to be people that aren’t going to feel safe to come back.”
“We think especially about the elderly or those who are vulnerable, and really encourage them to continue to participate via a live stream. And I know so many of them tune-in to Relevant Radio®. But then we’ve also had some great experiences with parking lot Masses. Our priests been very creative.”
The creativity, grace, and patience that churches and the faithful have displayed during the lockdown will still be needed in the reopening process. But Archbishop Hebda emphasized the importance of the sacraments, and the responsibility the Church has to bring the sacraments to the faithful.
“I think we’re going to be following a number of different avenues,” he told Drew. “Always with safety in mind, but also recognizing how important the Eucharist is in the life of our faithful.”
Listen to the full conversation with Archbishop Hebda below: