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A task force works with Bishop Burbidge on post-quarantine sacramental life

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In anticipation of the gradual loosening of quarantine restrictions, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge has issued a letter regarding the return to normal diocesan operations.

Bishop Burbidge told the faithful that the diocese is working to find ways to return to normal sacramental life safely but surely. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced that Phase 1 of the “Forward Virginia” plan to ease restrictions put in place in response to the novel coronavirus allows for churches to operate at a maximum of 50 percent capacity. In much of Virginia, Phase 1 begins May 15. However, Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties, will stay in Phase 0, delaying implementation of Phase 1 until midnight May 28 to allow more time to meet health metrics.

Bishop Burbidge also pointed out in his letter that, “Reinstituting the public celebration of the Mass at each parish depends on proper social distancing and the ability of parish clergy and staff to safely accommodate parishioners. This ability may vary from one parish to another.”

Read Bishop Burbidge's letter. 

To help him make those protocol decisions, Bishop Burbidge is working with a committee, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington Reintegration Working Group, which has been meeting on a weekly basis since late April. The 12 members include the vicar general, the chief operations officer, four pastors, a former director of the U.S. Public Health Service, a local nurse, the president of diocesan Catholic Charities, the director of the diocesan Department of Human Resources, the superintendent of schools and a Catholic high school head of school.

The working group is creating guidelines for returning to normal sacramental and communal life within the diocese’s churches and schools, said Ward Jones, diocesan chief operations officer. What those guidelines look like and when they are released is dependent on further recommendations from governmental and health authorities. The working group is consulting with similar organizations in neighboring dioceses to ensure that the bishops are aligned in their approach to reopening, said Jones.

When they are released, the guidelines will contain specifics about how to participate in public Masses going forward. Pastors may adapt those instructions to the needs of their parishes, said Jones. “The Bishop wants to ensure that we are complying with the safety guidelines of the scientific and medical community, (such as) social distancing and enhanced cleaning,” he said. “Our primary focus is how to return to normal in the sacramental life. There's a lot of complexity to doing this safely.”

While public Masses may return soon, Bishop Burbidge still urged those with concerns for their health to continue to stay home. “The dispensation I promulgated from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and on Holy Days of Obligation will remain until further notice,” he said. “I respectfully encourage parishioners who are 60 years old or older and those who have underlying medical conditions to ensure their own health and safety by staying at home until the dispensation is lifted.”

Find out more

Go to the diocesan website here or contact your parish. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020