There was an expectant atmosphere for the 8 a.m. daily Mass on May 18, 2020 at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. It was an extraordinary day; the first public Mass at the Cathedral of the Diocese of Venice since March 19, 2020. The social distancing and the wearing of masks reflected the unique circumstances necessary in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced the reopening of the Mass to the public, in a letter to the faithful dated May 12, 2020. Each church will have a maximum capacity of 50 percent while ensuring 6-foot social distancing. The announcement marked the end of a 59-day hiatus from the celebration of public Masses throughout the Diocese. This was preceded by the opening of churches for private prayer on May 11, 2020.
Therefore, it was no surprise when the 130 in attendance for the first Mass at the Cathedral applauded when Parochial Vicar Father Sebastian Szczawinski said “welcome.”
“I feel like I’m home,” said Roberta Cartwright. “I felt empty from being away for so long. I watched the daily Mass online, but it just wasn’t the same. I am so grateful to the Bishop for allowing everyone to return home and once more be close to Our Lord.”
Frank Paget said he was overjoyed to be back for the Mass and comforted to be among others who share his Faith. “I understood why the (public) Mass was suspended in the first place; it just had to happen. I am so grateful to be back and that everyone is following the restrictions for being safe and out in public – wearing a mask and sitting apart. I know it is temporary, but it is important for all of us to do our part.”
Public health officials have repeatedly advised wearing masks in public in order to reduce the risk of unknowingly transmitting the virus through droplets emitted from one’s mouth when speaking, coughing or sneezing. Many individuals who are infected with the virus do not develop symptoms, meaning even people who do not feel sick could spread the virus. For this reason, masks – along with social distancing – are an important tool in fighting the spread of the disease.
Prominent signs and markings in the pews throughout the Cathedral were in place to ensure social distancing. Lessons learned throughout the week will be used to prepare for the Saturday Vigil and Sunday Masses when more people are expected to return to Mass. Immediately following the Mass, volunteers wiped down the pews and areas where people may have touched exposed surfaces. All Parishes throughout the Diocese have taken similar steps as they reopen and adjust to the necessary requirements to ensure the health and safety of the faithful, volunteers, Parish staff and clergy.
The letter from Bishop Dewane notes that the faithful should expect that churches will be limited in capacity (maximum 50 percent) while the faithful maintain social distancing and wear a mask. At the same time, Bishop Dewane noted that the dispensation of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect through June 28, 2020. The Bishop also encouraged those who are most vulnerable or in fear of being in public to remain at home. “The faithful ought not to worry about remaining home if they are concerned for their wellbeing or that of other parishioners. Of course, those who are sick or have symptoms associated with COVID-19 are to stay home.”
For this reason, the first public Mass at Epiphany Cathedral was live streamed on Facebook, as Masses have been since late March. As with other Parishes, the online service from the Cathedral initially ensured everyone could remain connected to the Mass during quarantine and now as restrictions are eased, it will remain for those who still need to stay away for the time being.
If you are unable to find a Mass online, the Diocese of Venice will continue to provide the daily Mass at 9:15 a.m. from the Catholic Center in Venice through June 28, 2020. This is available through the Diocese Facebook account or website (www.dioceseofvenice.org. The Mass remains available for viewing throughout the day.