From Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ
Reopening for Indoor Worship in the Diocese of Oakland
Dear brother Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, Chancery, Cathedral and Parish Staff, lay and religious faithful of the Diocese of Oakland:
Last night the US Supreme Court ruled that Governor Newsome’s executive orders shutting our churches for indoor worship was unconstitutional. I welcome this decision by the Court. They also ruled that capping attendance at 25% and restricting congregational singing was reasonable and permitted.
Therefore, effective immediately you may (not must) reopen your parish church for indoor worship at 25% of your occupancy, as long as you continue to follow social distancing and wear a face covering. We were in a similar situation last summer with indoor worship, and the protocols we established then are still valid.
Some parishes have small churches, and have successfully transitioned to outdoor worship, where more people can be accommodated. You and your parish leadership team will need to decide if you prefer to transition back inside, even if it means scheduling more Masses, to observe the 25% capacity limit. Some parishes may decide to remain outside for the time being. That’s fine too. But I do not want any parish forbidding all in-person worship.
It seems clear to me that the Court decision upholds the State’s right, for now, to restrict congregational singing. (Too much singing is not usually a problem in Catholic Churches). I think that is wise. However we have interpreted that to mean there can still be some musical accompaniment to the Mass, e.g., a cantor or very small schola, and an organist. Some churches have placed the musicians and cantor behind a plexiglass shield. Some have placed them in the choir loft — or at a safe distance from others in the congregation.
I still recommend keeping at least one Mass live streamed for those who are not healthy enough to return to in-person worship at all. The dispensation from the Sunday obligation remains in place until further notice.
I wish this decision had come in time for Christmas. But I look forward to celebrating Ash Wednesday, Lent, and Holy Week indoors, especially the Chrism Mass with all you brother priests.