The 99 parishes across the catholic Diocese of Trenton (Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean) are opening up their doors to the 730,000 community of believers for private prayer ONLY beginning on May 13 (the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima) and in accordance with public health guidelines, Bishop David O'Connell announced on Friday.

"Wisdom consists in following Providence step by step. And you can be sure of the truth of a maxim which seems paradoxical, namely, that he who is hasty falls back in the interests of God," Bishop O'Connell said quoting his religious community's founder, St. Vincent DePaul.

He added that “every faithful Catholic has been eagerly anticipating the day when we will be able to reopen our churches for prayer and worship. It’s not just a matter of opening the door and ‘flipping the switch.’ Simply reopening churches for private prayer — even without Mass, sacraments, group prayer— must continue to incorporate some of the restrictions that we have become used to by now: no more than 10 people in a given space at the same time, wearing of masks in public, social distancing, etc.”

Bishop O'Connell stated that the Diocese of Trenton has carefully followed the “expert advice of experienced public health officials who have cautioned us not to rush into reopening churches to the faithful before their safety can be assured or, at least, uncompromised, in the face of this virulent contagion.”

He continued, “At the same time . . .  we realize that the current state of affairs cannot stay as it is forever without some spiritual relief.”  To address the challenge, Bishop O’Connell recently created a task force of pastors and charged them with developing a phased approach that will move the Diocese “from the reopening of churches for private prayer to the gradual restoration of our full Catholic and sacramental life.”

This decision came via the Diocese of Trenton task force for Phase One, “Reopening of Churches for Private Prayer,” which include two sets of directives – one common set for all parishes and one for individual pastors to adapt and implement in their parishes.

Here are the Phase One directives:

Common Directives to be Observed by All Parishes

• Dispensation from Sunday/Holy Day obligation remains in force until further notice.

• Pastors determine whether or not and when they can open their churches safely.

• No public Masses or other group liturgical/devotional celebrations until further notice.

• Sacramental celebrations in church (baptisms, confirmations, ordinary schedule of confessions, weddings) continue to be postponed until further notice.

• Live-streaming of Masses without congregations to continue.

• Churches will be closed for private prayer and empty during live-streamed Masses and will be reopened for private prayer after Mass.

• Faithful from at risk groups as identified by CDC/NJ DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH should remain at home.

• Regular sanitization of churches after use.

• Limited days open for private prayer: at least Monday through Friday.

• Hours for private prayer in open church to be determined by pastor.

• Limited number of visitors at one time (no more than 10) according to NJ state guidelines and social distancing (minimum of 6 feet between visitors) to be observed.

• Areas/pews for seating to be reserved to facilitate cleaning afterward.

• Wearing of masks required for all those making visits

Directives Determined by Individual Pastors:

• Pastors determine whether or not and when they can open their churches safely.

• Limit days/times open for private prayer: at least Monday through Friday.

• Coordinate “staggered hours” for open churches with pastors/parishes of deanery.

• Designate a single entrance to control number of visitors; no gathering at entrance, steps or parking lots.

• Close public restroom facilities as a preventive health measure and post closure on restroom doors; consider posting this on website.

• Remove all worship aides, pamphlets, books and paper from church pews; provide no handouts.

• Utilize a volunteer cleaning crew if possible.

• Encourage visitors to bring their own disinfectant wipes; provide trash receptacles at church entrance/exit.

• Begin online searching for coronavirus deep cleaning services (for example, resources on CDC website).

• Parishes with multiple church sites should only open one site, preferably the larger one where social distancing is easier.

• Post ALL directives in online parish bulletins, parish websites, social media and at church entrance.

• If church is open on weekends, close one hour before live-streamed Mass time.

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