Dear parishioners of St. Anne in Dixon:
Once again, I send you greetings and Easter blessings! As we begin to wind down this great season, Bishop Malloy has provided us news that should stoke our joy even further.
On www.rockforddiocese.org, he has published two documents. The first is a letter, explaining his intent to reopen churches in the Diocese of Rockford in the coming weeks for public Masses. The second is an executive summary, detailing the general guidelines that the State of Illinois and the bishops of the state have agreed to for this process.
If you are short on time, I suggest that you read the letter instead of the summary. The summary, while informative, is a broad document developed to guide the reopening of every area of the state for Catholic gatherings; and some of its points do not apply to the situation in our diocese. Our bishop's intention is to use the summary to create a more specific plan for us.
The bishop explains in his letter that he will give permission to churches that have completed the necessary reopening requirements to do so on Monday, May 25th. This is wonderful news, as many of the faithful have been waiting patiently for the return of public sacraments.
However, as pastor of St. Anne's, I feel it is important to point out several things.
First, this process is extensive and will take time to roll out. The day after Bishop Malloy released his letter, he forwarded on to the priests a four-page, single-spaced document of bullet points detailing all of the necessary requirements that must be fulfilled before the bishop would even consider giving his approval to reopen. While some of the required points are easy to complete, some will take coordination, time, and lots of effort.
In other words, just because the bishop says that churches can be reopened on May 25th for Mass does not mean that we may actually be opened on that day for Mass. Please be patient, and keep checking our website for information.
Second, when the initial requirements are completed, attendance at Mass will still be severely limited. Currently (until the governor determines otherwise), only ten people will be allowed to attend any Mass. That's right, ten; regardless of whether it is a daily Mass or a Sunday Mass. This limitation, of course, begs the question of how we determine who gets to come to Mass and when. I don't have an answer to that yet. In the end, though, most people may only be able to come to Mass once until the full restoration of services.
In the meantime, the bishop has extended the dispensation for attending Sunday Mass until further notice. You should continue to participate in virtual Masses and making spiritual communions until otherwise informed.
Here at St. Anne's, I will continue to record Masses and post them on our website and through social media.
Third, the bishop has lifted the restrictions on visits to the sick. Taking the proper precautions, of course, priests are once again allowed to make home visits to bring communion to and anoint the sick. If a family member is in need of these sacraments, please call the parish office and leave a message. I will call you back to make arrangements and explain the process for the visit.
As far as I know, though, nursing homes are still closed to us. We will return to them when we get approval.
Speaking of the parish office, fourth: parish offices are allowed to re-open for limited services. Up to now, I have asked our faithful secretary Ginny to remain at home for her own safety. Starting in the coming weeks, we will slowly ease her back into a limited schedule. If you need services from the parish office, please call first to make sure that Ginny will be in and that no one else will be present. All visits to the office must be brief and respect state-mandated distancing guidelines.
Fifth, the sacrament of reconciliation remains available by appointment only. I have been offering confessions by appointment since the stay-at-home order began, and several of you have taken advantage of that. I will continue doing what we have already been doing. If you wish to go to confession, please call the office and leave a message. I will then return your call and make arrangements. At this time, only face-to-face confessions are being offered.
Lastly (for now, at least), baptisms, weddings, and funerals can be held so long as they respect the current state guidelines for the number of people present. While we did not need to reschedule any weddings from this time, we did have to delay several baptisms. Please note that we can now schedule those baptisms, as long as the party is limited to ten people. If you are one of those families and would be willing to limit the group to the ten-person limit, please call the office and we can look at a time.
I know that funerals can be particularly tricky, as many family members may wish to be present. But, please, understand that I am bound by the bishop to respect the ten-person limit. I will do what I can to be flexible, but we will need to work together to meet the requirements.
I would be remiss if I did not offer my thanks at this time to Karen Didier, our bookkeeper, who has been coming in to count your donations and to keep me informed of our financial status from week to week. I would also like to thank Calli McClain, our parish communications coordinator, who has been faithfully posting the Mass and other items to our social media sites. Also, my thanks go to Michael Armato, our school principal; Paula McCoy and Sue Godsil, our school secretaries; and all of our teachers, who have all made extraordinary efforts to keep the school year going remotely.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for your patience so far, and for the patience that will be asked of you in the coming weeks. Thank you for your generosity, as many of you continue to send in your envelopes and donations. Thank you for your concern for me, as you have called, emailed, or sent little goodies to the rectory. I am grateful.
As more information develops, I will note it here.
Continued peace and blessings to you and yours,
Fr. Thomas J. Doyle, Jr.