Bishop William Joensen.

The Bishop of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese is allowing in-person masses to return in 15 counties beginning Thursday.

Bishop William Joensen says the decision comes after looking at information surrounding the coronavirus pandemic for the past month.  “We just thought that a kind of gradual coming back looking at much of the same medical data that our health care officials and some of our state officials have been doing,” Joensen says.

Joensen says the parishes will be allowed to hold morning masses Monday through Saturday.  “We were seeing numbers that were giving us comfort that if we gathered in a daily mass situation what we could both respond to our heartfelt need of the people to come for mass to receive the Eucharist — but not overwhelm ourselves — so that we can observe social distancing and the cleansing process,” according to Joensen. “We felt very comfortable then with what we call phase one.”

Phase one includes Wayne, Lucas, Clarke, Decatur, Madison, Union, Ringgold, Adair, Adams, Taylor, Cass, Montgomery, Page, Fremont, and Harrison Counties. Mills County will be permitted to regather for daily mass beginning on Monday. Joensen says this is not a mandate and local priests will be able to determine if they can take the steps to safely hold a mass.

“If this were only a matter of hey I’m willing to take on this individual risk of contagion in order to celebrate the sacraments and to worship — but it’s not — we are mindful of each other….the fact that so many are asymptomatic and how contagious the virus is,” Joensen says. “So, I think that’s where we have to have the common good at stake.”

Joensen says they will take several steps to continue social distancing. “We’re not going to eliminate all risk, but within a reasonable degree, making adjustments, wearing a face mask, not being close to others, reducing greatly if not entirely the music that is so much the part of the mass and other prayer experiences,” he says.

Joensen says they are asking parishioners to wear face masks during the masses and there will be masks on hand. “That would be the expectation, and so people would keep their masks on, keep the spacing. The priests and all the other associated ministers are also obliged to wear masks as they distribute communion,” Joensen says. “We ask people to receive on the hand — not on the tongue. So, as they come forward they receive the host say ‘amen’ and then step to the side and loosen one side of the mask, consume the host and then go back to their place.”

Joensen says the shut down of daily masses has given everyone something to reflect on. “Making possible, gracefully aware of what he is calling us to, not only to center our lives ever more on the things that matter,” Joensen says, “the relationships with God and people and others may be outside our immediate circle. How are we mindful and present to them. I think the devotional practices, the emphasis on God’s word and scripture. The sense that we need to take the initiative on our own lives as disciples at home and with our families.”

The other counties in the Des Moines Diocese are still prohibited from celebrating daily masses with more than ten persons present. Those counties are Polk, Warren, Dallas, Guthrie, Audubon, Shelby, and Pottawattamie Counties. Joensen says when parishes in these counties reach the point where risk has appropriately abated, he will let them know when they can enter phase one.

The Catholic Diocese in Davenport, Dubuque and Sioux City have not indicated they are ready to resume masses. The governor lifted the limit of holding public gatherings to 10 people on May 1st to allow churches to resume worship services.

(Photo courtesy of the Des Moines Catholic Diocese)