The Diocese of Baton Rouge announced Catholic churches may re-open for congregational worship as early as this weekend, starting with Vigil Masses Saturday afternoon, if they can conform to strict directives regarding occupancy, social distancing and sanitary conditions.
The diocese said it expects all its parishes to celebrate public Masses the weekend of May 23/24.
Baton Rouge Bishop Michael G. Duca announced the action in a letter to a quarter million Catholics who live in the diocese's 12 civil parishes. The letter is being distributed by church parishes to their faithful on their websites and on other social media platforms.
The bishop's action comes after Governor Edwards relaxed restrictions on certain types of public gatherings, effective May 15.
The bishop's letter says that the Sunday Mass obligation will continue to be dispensed indefinitely, and it urges those who are vulnerable or recovering from the coronavirus to stay home and prayerfully watch Masses that will continue to be live-streamed. It also outlines new guidelines for the communal celebration of Mass, the distribution of Holy Communion and reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The bishop's earlier directives concerning funerals, marriages, baptisms, the anointing the sick and taking Holy Communion to the homebound will remain in effect for the time being.
"Gathering together under these new guidelines is a big undertaking by your pastor and parish staff," the bishop said. "Expect that each parish will begin public Masses when prepared and will adopt different options that reflect the size of the parish, number of priests, available resources, readiness and parishioner support," he added.
"I invite you not to compare what is going on in another parish with your parish’s situation. Be patient with your pastor and accept that it will take a few weeks to accommodate this new reality," the bishop said.
The text of Bishop Duca's letter to the faithful is attached. Parishioners are urged to be in touch with their parish offices for information on when and how their churches will return to congregational worship.