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TUCSON — The Catholic Diocese of Tucson announced on Friday that it plans to reopen churches in several steps.

“I have agreed to implement a gradual reopening of our parishes for public worship after consultation with numerous persons in leadership roles in the Tucson Diocese, along with attention given to the medical and scientific community,” Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger said in a press release on Friday.

The reopening will include some adaptations of Masses.

“Most especially, if at any time that we see an intensity in coronavirus contagion, an overwhelming of our health care facilities or other factors that advise a change to our plans, then be assured that we will do so. Indeed, this could include returning to the state of closing our churches to public worship once again,” Weisenburger said. “We will not let our love for the practice of our faith overcome our call to be faithful citizens attentive to the common good.”

Although pastors may begin providing Holy Communion in parking lots on May 23 and 24, the celebration of the Ascension of the Lord, public Masses will not be celebrated, the press release said.

“Holy Communion may be distributed outdoors, typically following a Mass celebrated privately — without a congregation or participants — by the pastor. Parishioners might also view a Mass on television or via internet prior to receiving Holy Communion at their parish,” Weisenburger said.

Parishioners should check with local parish schedules to determine if Holy Communion will be provided.

The Sunday Mass obligation remains suspended indefinitely for all Catholics living in or visiting the Tucson Diocese, the press release said.

“Roman Catholic theology teaches that we do not ordinarily separate reception of Holy Communion from the celebration of Mass. While receiving Eucharist after a Mass viewed through technology is an imperfect situation, it is for now the best. It is especially critical that all Catholics be reminded that there is some inherent risk for anyone going to any public place, including a church. The decision to return to the public celebrations of our faith during this time of pandemic should not be made casually or lightly by anyone,” Weisenburger said.

Beginning with May 29 to June 1, with the celebration of Pentecost, pastors may petition the bishop for permission to begin limited public celebrations of the Mass.

Parishes will not automatically open on any particular day and each pastor must certify to his parishioners and to the bishop that basic safety protocols will be in place before their parish opens to the public.

Among the safety protocols are compliance with social distancing, limitations on numbers of congregants, proper cleaning of church facilities and the use of face masks and hand sanitizers.

To comply with social distancing, weekend Masses may be held beginning on Friday and extending through Monday.

Public celebrations and services will not be held Tuesday through Thursday to allow for additional cleaning and time for any indication of the coronavirus to die, the press release said.

Outdoor and parking lot Masses are preferable to indoor services, the press release said.

Church attendees are asked to politely leave if they find a “church is now full” sign at the entrance.

Once a church is certified for public liturgies, weddings and funerals may once again be celebrated for larger communities but strictly following all protocols given for weekend liturgies.

“It is my hope that in this gradual opening of our parishes we will be attentive to our great desire to continue the full exercise of our faith as well as undertake reasonable effort to ensure the well-being of our people and the common good,” Weisenburger said.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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