WINDSOR TERRACE — The Diocese of Brooklyn is taking its first steps toward a return to normalcy during the pandemic.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio announced on May 22 that churches in Brooklyn and Queens can start to reopen on Tuesday, May 26, but with limitations. The churches will be allowed to open for private prayer, funerals, and limited baptisms and weddings attended by no more than 10 people.
Pastors who do not believe their parishes are ready to reopen are not bound to do, according to the announcement.
Opening church doors for private prayer and devotion is the first step in the diocese’s three-step process toward a full reopening. The second step will allow for daily Masses to be celebrated, with the third and final step seeing churches reopen for Sunday Masses.
The dates for the second and third steps have not been announced. The dates when First Holy Communion and Confirmation will be held have not been set.
Churches in the diocese have been closed since March 20.
“It has been a challenging few months for Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens,” Bishop DiMarzio said in a statement. “We know many people have eagerly been awaiting the day our churches would open. … While we cannot celebrate the Mass just yet, it is so important that we can now enter for prayer,” the bishop added.
Strict rules will be in place as the churches open for prayer, according to a letter sent to church pastors from the Office of the Vicar General.
Face masks will be required to enter a church and only one door will be used for entering, with other doors available for exit in case of emergencies. Entry will be limited to 10 people and everyone inside the church must maintain social distancing and stay at least six feet apart. Ushers or volunteers will be present to assist parishioners with maintaining social-distancing rules.
Parishioners will also be instructed not to touch statues and hymnals will be removed from the pews to prevent people from touching them.
Bishop DiMarzio’s decision followed an announcement made on May 21 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, leader of the Archdiocese of New York, that churches in the archdiocese would now begin the process toward a full reopening. Cardinal Dolan did not issue a blanket decision to close all churches during the pandemic and many have remained open over the past few months for private prayer.
Earlier this month, Bishop DiMarzio formed a special committee to help him develop a roadmap detailing how churches could reopen in a way that was safe for parishioners and priests.
Bishop DiMarzio asked Joseph Esposito, the former commissioner of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, to chair the committee.
The committee’s main goal is to work with the bishop to ensure that churches can reopen in a manner that is safe for parishioners and priests, said Esposito.
“In my nearly 50 years of service to the city, this is one of the hardest issues I have had to deal with,” Esposito said. “The risks are great which is why we have to get things right the first time.”
To read the latest updates regarding coronavirus concerns in the Brooklyn Diocese, go to https://thetablet.org/coronavirus.