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Services to resume this weekend at Roman Catholic churches in West Virginia

WHEELING — Roman Catholic churches across West Virginia will welcome back parishioners this weekend after a more than two-month hiatus from Mass.

All parishes in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston were authorized this week by Bishop Mark Brennan to resume in-person church services beginning today after submitting reopening plans to keep people safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

“The suspension of Mass has been difficult for the faithful as well as our priests, who devote their lives to bringing the sacraments to others,” diocesan spokesman Tim Bishop said Friday. “While we look forward to the resumption of Masses this weekend, we do so with the safety of all in mind.”

Mass has been suspended since March 13 when Brennan announced there would be no services as the coronavirus spread throughout the country. Each parish was required to submit an individualized safety plan on what parish workers and volunteers would do to keep people safe after churches reopened to the public.

“Bishop Brennan is thankful to the priests and lay faithful in our parishes across the state who worked very hard to develop their plans to resume the public celebration of Masses,” Bishop said.

The diocese created a committee led by Msgr. Eugene Ostrowski, the diocesan Vicar General, to recommend guidelines on what churches should do to be able to reopen.

The safety plans include changes to the way Mass in each church will proceed with physical distancing guidelines, the requirement for parishioners to wear masks, suspending the offering of Communion wine and no longer using hymn books or holding each others’ hands during prayer.

“(Brennan and Ostrowski) worked with parishes to make sure their plans work in accord with the directives set to resume the public celebration of Mass,” Bishop said.

Several guidelines will be enforced uniformly, Bishop said, although the safety plans were “nuanced” for each church due to its size and population.

“For example, a larger parish like St. Michael in Wheeling will have different seating arrangements or more Masses than a small parish in the southern part of the diocese,” Bishop said.

The diocese will continue to suspend the obligation to attend Mass indefinitely for those who are concerned about contracting the coronavirus.

Two parishes — one in Putnam County and another in Mercer County — have asked for a delay in the resumption of in-person services by one week “to ensure they can properly enact the directives” by the diocese, Bishop said. He added that officials from the two unidentified parishes thought they needed extra time to organize volunteers to clean after each Mass and have enough greeters and ushers.

Bishop implored the faithful to follow each parish’s guidelines to keep themselves and others safe during the pandemic.

“As we return to churches this weekend, we do so with the commandment of Christ — to love our neighbor — in our minds,” Bishop said. “Following the directives in our churches, designed to keep our neighbors safe, is truly living out that commandment.”

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