While there were no in-person Masses during Holy Week and Easter, Christmas is the next major holiday that can draw many Catholics and their non-Catholic relatives to the pews.
St. Joseph Church in Fayetteville has more than 2,000 registered families, or about 7,000 parishioners, pastor Father Jason Tyler said. They typically draw about 2,200 at the four Christmas weekend Masses. This year Father Tyler said they will add at least one more Mass for Christmas.
“There’s so much that could still change,” he said “Our plan at the moment is we’d have our 4 p.m. Mass simultaneous with another Mass” in the gym, staggered by about 10 to 15 minutes to prevent crowding in the parking lot.
Father Tyler sent out a survey to parishioners, asking a handful of questions including what Mass they planned to attend and how many people would be coming with them. He was curious whether people who had not been attending would attend on Christmas. As of Nov. 19, 306 people had responded; about a third did not plan to attend in person and a third have been attending rarely or not at all.
Father Tyler said when gathering for the holidays, families need to heed the COVID-19 guidelines and also consider the sentiment he’s shared with families while officiating weddings this year: “Everyone is excited about you getting married today, but COVID doesn’t care.”
Father Erik Pohlmeier, pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said because its sanctuary is large and overflow space is available in the Family Life Center, it will continue to follow guidelines like all parishes during Christmas weekend. It’s his first Christmas as pastor of the parish.
As for families gathering, he said they need to follow guidelines from health experts.
“We have to take precautions we wouldn’t normally take,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but everything feels closer now. We’ve had more priests around the state that have had (COVID-19) … I had a couple that canceled marriage prep with me (who tested positive). A couple days difference in timing, and they could have been here before getting tested,” Father Pohlmeier said, adding that people should not let their guard down with safety protocols just because a person is a relative or friend.
“As the numbers go up we have to be more cautious. The things everyone was doing in March are the things we need to be doing now,” he added.
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