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Parishes get option of where to worship

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SAN DIEGO – “Overjoyed.” “Thrilled to pieces.” “Thank God!”

That’s how some priests and parishioners reacted to once more being allowed to celebrate Mass indoors.

Many local Catholic parishes are doing so following a U.S. Supreme Court decision, issued on Feb. 5, that permits public worship indoors as long as occupancy is limited to 25 percent of the building’s capacity, face masks are worn, and social distancing is maintained. Choral singing remains prohibited, however.

“I am delighted that the Court has taken this judicious step that expands the options for religious worship, while recognizing equally the health imperatives that are required in this moment,” Bishop Robert McElroy wrote in a letter sent to the diocese’s priests the day after the ruling was issued.

The bishop authorized pastors to make their own decisions about which Masses and other liturgies to hold indoors.

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Rancho Peñasquitos, Father Anthony Saroki was “overjoyed” by the Court’s ruling and felt that “it was a long time coming.” He said what the Supreme Court permitted is what diocesan parishes have been prepared to do since last spring.

“The state exerted its power and its own poor judgment” and it has been restricting the diocese from the plan it developed to balance the worship needs of its faithful with their health and safety. “Finally, we have what we had really wanted back in May of 2020.”

Father Saroki said parishioners cheered when he announced the return of indoor Masses. All daily Masses and all but the two most heavily attended Sunday Masses are now inside.

However, he acknowledged that some people are still uncomfortable with the idea of gathering indoors. Along with the two outdoor Sunday Masses, he said, parishioners are also welcome to remain outside during the other Masses and pray along with the liturgy.

After the past year, which has seen parish communities moving their Masses from inside to outside and back again to meet changing COVID restrictions, the Supreme Court’s decision provides a greater sense of stability.

“As we look at Lent and the Easter Vigil, we can make plans again,” Father Saroki said.

Members of San Rafael Parish in Rancho Bernardo also welcomed the Supreme Court ruling.

“Everyone applauded,” said the pastor, Msgr. Dennis Mikulanis, who informed Sunday Mass-goers on Feb. 7 that the parish would be back indoors beginning on Feb. 9. “People have been waiting for this to happen.”

Msgr. Mikulanis, who feels that California’s draconian restrictions discriminated against the exercise of religion, had a colorful response to the Court ruling.

“Thank God!” he exclaimed. “Intelligent life has been discovered in Washington, D.C.”

Maureen Anderson, 89, who has been a San Rafael parishioner for 32 years, welcomed the ruling warmly.

“I was thrilled to pieces,” said Anderson, who attends Mass daily. “I couldn’t understand why we were getting sent out in the cold to begin with.”

Weather conditions at times have kept her from outdoor Masses.

“There were several mornings when the wind was so bad I knew I couldn’t sit there that long,” she recalled, expressing appreciation for having been able to watch parish Masses online on those occasions.

All of the Masses at San Rafael Parish have moved inside, but chairs will be provided in the patio in front of the church for all who feel more comfortable outside, said Msgr. Mikulanis. The parish also will continue to upload a recording of the 8 a.m. daily Mass to the website and will livestream the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass. The Holy Week liturgies, the Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday Masses will be livestreamed as well.

Msgr. Mikulanis said being able to celebrate Lent and Easter inside the parish church represents “a wonderful difference” from last year, when all public liturgies were suspended.

“Easter assures us of new life,” he said. “This movement back inside is like a crocus poking through the ground.”

For El Centro Catholic (ECC), Father Mark Edney said his parishioners “overwhelmingly” voted to continue Masses outdoors – while cool weather permits. Three outdoor Masses are held at St. Mary’s outdoors on the weekends, and they are livestreamed.

“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision but … it doesn’t change the fact of the matter; we still have a virus out there and most people are not vaccinated,” he said.

One indoor Mass was added starting Feb. 21 at the Capilla Cristo Rey of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in El Centro. To adhere to the 25-percent capacity and social distancing mandates, the 9 a.m.  Mass will only allow those who have reserved a seat through ECC’s Flocknote or by calling the ECC parish offices.

Father Edney said ECC needs more volunteers to conduct parishioner temperature checks at the door and ushers to take them to their seats at Cristo Rey. He said the Mass could be in English, Spanish or bilingual depending upon parishioner reservations.

Pastors in the other larger parish communities in the Valley – Brawley and Calexico – said their Masses will continue to be outdoors and livestreamed. Confessions will continue to be by appointment.

To sign up for Flocknote for El Centro Catholic, text “Eccatholic” to 84567 and follow the prompts. Other parish communities in the Imperial Valley also utilize Flocknote to communicate, and parishioners are invited to call their local parish offices to sign up to use this platform.

Check your parish’s website to see which Masses are celebrated indoors and outdoors. During the pandemic, the diocese provides links to resources in mental health, food and economic assistance, spiritual support, at sdcatholic.org/pandemic.

Roman Flores contributed to this article.

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