Updated 4-7-20

Archbishop Alexander Sample has announced that parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland can begin to reopen for the celebration of public Masses the weekend of May 9-10, beginning with Saturday vigil liturgies.

“I come to bring you great news today,” the smiling archbishop said in a video posted on his Twitter and Facebook accounts the evening of May 5. He said the openings will depend on individual churches’ ability to safely welcome parishioners, who will be asked to practice social distancing. Masses will be limited to 25 people, in accordance with current state law dictating group size during the pandemic.

An April 9 memo from the Oregon Health Authority for religious gatherings indicated Communion was not allowed, specifically in relation to drive-in services. However, the memo is “best practices not state legal requirements,” said David Renshaw, director of the Office of Communications in the archdiocese.

In a May 1 letter to pastors in the archdiocese, released to the public May 7, the archbishop said his decision to resume the celebration of Mass on a limited scale was in conjunction with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s anticipated announcement to gradually and tentatively reopen Oregon nearly two months after implementing a stay-at-home order. On May 7, the governor released her plan, which allows some businesses to open May 15 if they comply with social distancing policies. Brown canceled all large gatherings through at least September.

In his six-minute video May 5, Archbishop Sample asked for “great understanding and patience at this time as we begin to transition to some level of normalcy in the life of our church. The fact is not every parish will be ready to go and open up their church at the same time.”

Given the different reopening timelines, the archbishop will continue his dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. He also noted that “some of you may decide to stay away for now, and that’s fine; you shouldn’t feel guilty about that if you are concerned for your own health and that of your family.”

The archbishop considered waiting until all parishes in the archdiocese were prepared to celebrate public Masses but said he didn’t want to hold back parishes that — either due to their smaller size or larger staff — were already able to organize a safe reopening.

Each parish will be responsible for determining how to begin to celebrate public Masses, incorporating social distancing and stringent sanitization practices. The archbishop said one likely first step will be to ascertain who in each parish wishes to attend. Priests were given information about reopening only a week ago, so he reiterated that some parishes, especially larger ones, may take longer to reopen.

The archbishop, who suspended public Masses March 16, said parishes are encouraged to add additional Masses during the week so that more people may receive the Eucharist safely.

“Realize that there’s nothing we can do to completely eliminate all risk,” said Archbishop Sample. “But we’re going to do everything we can to open up our churches again responsibly, carefully and with great thought.”

As state restrictions are lessened and as larger numbers of people are allowed to gather, “we will go right with those guidelines,” the archbishop said.

He said his decision to allow public Masses was “completely in response” to the faithful. “I have been listening to you and your longing for the holy Mass, your longing to receive the holy Eucharist.”

The archbishop addressed vulnerable populations — the elderly, those with compromised immune systems or people with underlying health conditions: “I’m going to urge you good people to stay at home for your safety,” he said, adding that he knows that’s painful to hear. “But for your own safety we ask that you please at this time refrain.

“Again, my brothers and sisters, I beg your patience, your understanding, your continuing kindness as we begin to transform back into the church that we all want to be,” he said. “Let’s pray that this goes off well. It’s not going to be perfect right away, but we will get here in time.”

The archbishop ended by saying that he wanted the faithful of the archdiocese to know they remain in his “heart and prayers during these days.”

Masses will continue to be livestreamed from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Northwest Portland.

katies@catholicsentinel.org