May 8, 2020

Plan for Reopening of Churches and Resuming the Celebration of Public Sunday and Weekday Masses and the other Sacraments in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis

(En Espanol | American Sign Language: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)

(Related: Letter from Archbishop Charles C. Thompson on Reopening Churches)

Update (10/23/2020): Dispensation for Sunday Mass extended until further notice

Update (08/03/2020): A statement from the five Indiana bishops on the dispensation from the obligation of Sunday Mass attendance

Update (05/22/2020): On or after Tuesday, May 26, the distribution of Holy Communion outside of Mass may begin. This decision about beginning this is left to the judgment of the pastor, administrator or parish life coordinator.  If allowed, the guidelines for the distribution of Holy Communion during Mass are to be observed (such as, the use of masks and the sanitation of hands before and after Holy Communion is distributed.)  Holy Communion may be distributed inside a sacred space, outside, or even at the home, as long as it can be done safely and with the utmost precaution.  Holy Communion may now even be offered to those who are not attending public Mass for their safety and/or for the common good. The distribution of Holy Communion is to be done in a reverent way, and people are encouraged to prayerfully prepare themselves beforehand.  With the permission of the pastor, administrator or parish life coordinator, Holy Communion may even be distributed to individuals at or in their residence and preferably by members of their household who are already extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and who use a pyx to do so. The archbishop has given permission to pastors to designate and train a Catholic in good standing to serve as an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion in individual cases.  See the Rite of Deputing a Minister to Distribute Holy Communion on a Single Occasion in Appendix III of the Roman Missal. (American Sign Language)

Update (05/14/2020): Archbishop Thompson and his staff are continuing to explore and evaluate all the possible ways the public celebration of Mass may resume in the many different parts of the archdiocese.  Because the conditions and local restrictions vary in different parts of the archdiocese and because of the complexities of navigating all of the requirements of opening our churches and restarting public liturgical celebrations, all of the faithful are asked to only follow the timeline of and to attend the services at their home parish for the next month/until June 15th.  This will enable parishes to more accurately assess the numbers of attendees and to communicate effectively with them before their arrival.  So, while parishes may resume the public celebration of Mass at slightly different times, all parishioners are asked to only go to their home parishes for the next month. (American Sign Language)

Part I: Context and Principles

  • To reopen our churches and to resume public liturgical celebrations in this time requires thoughtful planning and preparation to protect the health and safety of the faithful.
  • Each parish/community is asked to develop a specific, local plan based on these directives and guidelines.  If assistance or clarification is needed, please contact Fr. Pat Beidelman.
  • As parishes and other communities implement their local plans, this will certainly be a process of trial and error.  We encourage all to monitor the effectiveness of their plans and adapt them in an ongoing way.
  • Those who are 65 and over and those with high-risk health conditions should remain at home. This is the population that is most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Of course, those who are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19 should not enter a church until released to do so by their health care professional.
  • The dispensation from the obligation to participate at Mass on Sundays is extended in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and throughout the State of Indiana until August 15, 2020. 
  • A phased resumption of liturgical activities enables greater spiritual and pastoral care to be provided to the faithful during this difficult time, while continuing to protect the most vulnerable and to slow and contain the spread of COVID-19.
  • As the guidance from local authorities may vary from place to place, pastoral leaders should follow the directives for the specific area in their decision-making and implementation.
  • While there is a value in striving to open our churches and to resume our public liturgies, those parishes/communities that are not ready to do so safely should delay their start date.
  • Cooperation/coordination between pastoral leaders/parishes is encouraged, especially when it protects pastoral leaders who are older and/or have high-risk health conditions.
  • As people of faith, we believe that the Lord is always at work in our lives, even in this time of many restrictions and sacrifices.  Some of God’s greatest graces can come in moments of transition and in all our new beginnings. 

PART II: Decision-Making Tool for Choosing a Date/Schedule for Reopening Churches and for Resuming Public Liturgical Celebrations

  1. Has your parish/community established a plan that is informed by the Recommended Minimum Health Protocols for Places of Worship based the governor’s Back on Track Indiana plan as well as other local directives?
    1. See:
  2. Does your parish/community have sufficient and effective cleaning/disinfecting supplies?
    1. The archdiocese is actively exploring guidance and access to these supplies.  More information will be forthcoming as soon as it is available.
    2. Also see:
  3. Have you developed a process for cleaning between Masses?
    1. See:
  4. Have you determined a schedule for when the church will be open and for when liturgical services will be celebrated?
  5. Have you determined a way to determine/maintain capacity limits?
    1. When churches may open as well as when public Masses and the celebration of the other Sacraments are permitted, pastoral leaders are encouraged to utilize the guideline of 20-30% of capacity in determining the number of those who may be present for liturgies celebrated indoors. If because of the arrangement/design of the Church a lower percentage of capacity would create or help maintain a safer environment, then pastoral leaders are encouraged to utilize it.
  6. Have you developed a way to communicate to staff, parishioners, and guests to not enter if they are symptomatic or if they have tested positive for COVID-19?
    1. See:
  7. Have you decided on a process for maintaining and communicating about social distancing and good hygiene, which includes marking of/arranging seating, entering/exiting the church, processing for the distribution of Holy Communion, and the use of the restrooms?
  8. Have you determined how, when Mass may be celebrated, Holy Communion will be distributed (no distribution to the congregation, at the usual time, or at the end of Mass after the dismissal)?
  9. Have you identified a person or persons to be trained to monitor and manage the admission and movement of people in the worship space?
  10. Does your plan primarily utilize those who are under 65 years old and those without high-risk health conditions?
  11. Have you investigated what to do when a person who is a confirmed COVID-19 case has been in one of our churches?
    1. See

PART III: Three Phases, Dates, and Conditions for Reopening of Churches and Resuming of the Celebration of Public Sunday and Weekday Masses and the other Sacraments

In choosing when to begin and how to proceed locally through these phases, all are encouraged to move forward slowly, while encouraging patience, charity and trust in Lord throughout.

PHASE 1 – Reopening churches for private prayer, devotions and the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance may begin on or after Wednesday, May 13, 2020, respecting the directives of the local authorities of your area. (NOTE: Parishes/communities in Marion and Monroe counties remain under a stay-at-home order at least until May 15, 2020.)

  • Broadcast/Livestream Masses - Parishes with the capability should continue to broadcast Masses whenever possible throughout all of the phases. Social distancing protocols as applicable below should be followed. 
  • During this phase, churches may open for private prayer, devotions and confessions, if they have implemented a plan that provides for safe environments and operations that support the precautions to slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 (See the Decision-Making Tool in Part II)  Apart from the spiritual activities mentioned above and below, there should be no other gathering or congregating indoors or outdoors on the church property.
    • Suggestions for Confession: Confessions may once again be held at scheduled times. For individual confessions, 6 feet must be maintained between priest and penitent. A screen may be used as a protective barrier. Confessions may be heard outdoors. If indoors, it is recommended that a large room or open area be utilized – traditional confessional boxes or booths cannot be safely utilized at this time. Social distancing should also be clearly marked for those in the confession line. Whether indoors or outdoors, the secrecy of the confession must be maintained. No one else should be near enough to hear the confession.
  • No public celebrations of Mass or the distribution of Holy Communion outside of Mass may be offered during this phase.
  • The previous directives regarding the celebration of funerals (graveside services preferred), weddings (outside of Mass with 10 people or less), anointing of the sick (only in imminent danger of death), as well as the Sacraments of Initiation (only in imminent danger of death) remain in force until Phase 2.

Phase 2 – Public celebrations of Weekday Masses, Weddings and Funerals within Mass, Infant Baptisms, postponed Memorial Masses for those who have died, and the Anointing of the Sick (now even for the seriously ill who may not be in imminent danger of death) may resume on or after Tuesday, May 19, 2020.

  • Mass may be celebrated indoors, outdoors, or (where two or more priests are present) in multiple locations at the same time.
  • The parish’s safe capacity plan should be followed, and all might consider ways to spread out attendance at Masses – for example, a rotation system based on the first letter of last names, limiting the number of Masses an individual or family group attends per month, by utilizing an online ticketing system like Eventbrite (, etc.
  • During the celebration of the liturgy itself, it is recommended that neither the clergy nor the other actively assisting ministers (e.g., a lector while reading) should wear masks. Being in the sanctuary and 6 feet apart from one another should mean there is no substantial risk for infection.
  • The opening procession, recessional, presentation of the gifts, collection, and the use of altars servers, may be discontinued to allow for social distancing.  Baskets may be place near the entrances for the collection.
  • The physical exchange of the sign of peace and the holding of hands during the Lord’s prayer is suspended.
  • Protocols for the Distribution of Holy Communion:
  1. The person responsible for the preparation of Eucharistic elements must wear a mask and non-latex gloves.
    1. It would be prudent for concelebrants to either have their own patens/chalices or for priests to receive by intinction.
    2. All vessels should be washed/sanitized after each use.
    3. Once prepared they should be placed on the credence table or other space and covered until needed.
  2. Holy Communion from the chalice for the faithful remains suspended until further notice.
  3. There is no need for ministers of Holy Communion to wear gloves.
  4. Ministers of Communion may wear face masks while distributing if they prefer.
    1. Masks should be put on before sanitizing their hands before Communion and removed before sanitizing after Communion.
  5. Before the Mass, or at least before the distribution of Holy Communion, hand sanitizer should be placed within easy reach of the place(s) from where Communion will be distributed.
  6. All social distancing protocols must be maintained.
    1. At least six feet between communicants in procession to and from the minister.
    2. Parishes may wish to mark the aisles with tape to indicate the necessary distance.
  7. Before the start of Mass, or at a suitable point during Mass, the priest should explain the basic protocols for Communion (“Suitable point” means either before Penitential Act or before the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer).
    1. Remind the faithful that those concerned with receiving Holy Communion are not obligated to do so, and they can choose not to receive until they are more comfortable.
    2. That, for those who desire to receive Holy Communion, they may do so at the normal time.
    3. Those who are not receiving Holy Communion for whatever reason should not come forward for a blessing.
    4. Those who wish to remain in their places may do so. They should step out of pew a safe distance to allow those who are approaching for Communion to pass by.
    5. Maintain the six-foot distance from each other as they come forward for Holy Communion.
    6. Holy Communion in the hand is highly encouraged during this time.
      1. Those who do not wish to receive in the hand could be asked to receive last or to make a spiritual communion.
    7. While distributing the hosts, the minister’s declaration of “The Body of Christ” should be said softly, as should the communicant’s “Amen” response.
  8. The hosts for the Communion of the faithful should be placed on the altar where they are not directly in front of the priest (perhaps on a second corporal towards the side of the altar).
    1. This allows the priest to pray the words of consecration directly over the host he will consume, with the other hosts on the altar but not directly in front of the priest as he speaks the Eucharistic prayer.
  9. Priests and deacons should wash hands or use hand sanitizer both after making their own Communion and after distributing Communion to the faithful.
  10. The faithful who receive Communion should, as best as possible, sanitize their hands before and after receiving.
    1. People are encouraged to bring their own bottles of hand sanitizer to use.
  11. Any person-to-person contact must be completely avoided. 
    1. Hosts could be lightly and carefully dropped in well-cupped hands.
    2. If the minister was to make physical contact with the communicant or to give Communion on the tongue, they should stop distribution immediately and sanitize their hands (using the sanitizer placed prior to the Mass – see no. 5 above).
    3. If someone not receiving Holy Communion does come forward, the minister should not physically touch them.
  12. Extraordinary minister(s) of Holy Communion may be utilized under the following conditions:
    1. If the size and layout of the church and number of people present require their use for the timely distribution of Communion.
    2. If the priest celebrant is the only ordinary minister of Holy Communion present, and he is unable to distribute Communion due to age or health concerns.
    3. Any EMHCs must follow the same protocols as priests/deacons in the prep before, during and after the distribution of Communion.
  13. Each ordinary minister should purify his own vessels after distributing Communion.
    1. This may be done after Mass.
  14. If there is a need to consecrate additional hosts to be reserved for viaticum, those should be placed in their own vessel from the beginning of Mass and not used for the Communion of the faithful present. The distribution of Holy Communion to those who are unable to attend Mass remains suspended until further notice.
  15. Any hosts that remain from the distribution of Communion should be immediately consumed and not mixed with the reserved Blessed Sacrament.
  • Holy water and baptismal fonts must remain empty except during baptisms. Blessed water should be poured directly into the ground and refreshed between baptisms. Masks should be worn (except by infants and those who would have trouble breathing) and hands should be sanitized before and after when celebrating baptism.
    • The Baptism of Children may take place within Mass, but it is preferred that Masses not be extended whenever possible.  So, smaller Baptismal services outside Mass are preferred.

Phase 3 – Public celebrations of Sunday Masses, the Rites of Christian Initiation of Adults, and First Communions may resume on or after the weekend of May 23 & 24, 2020.

  • Number of Masses: With smaller congregation sizes due to social distancing (following your safe capacity plan), consideration can be given to adding Sundays Masses.  All priests may celebrate up to three Mass on Sunday itself.  They may celebrate up to two Masses on Saturday evening provided that they have not celebrated another Mass before 4 pm on Saturday.
  • Liturgical Music: The use of music should be limited to one cantor and one musician, who must remain more than six feet from one-another and others. The cantor should, as much as possible, sing from one place in the church, at least six feet from anyone else. The Responsorial Psalm may be sung from the cantor stand rather than the ambo.
    • The use of sung antiphons from the Roman Gradual or the Roman Missal, music with refrains, as well as hymns well known to the congregation, along with instrumental accompaniment without singing all should be considered.
    • Hymnals should not be used due to the difficultly in sanitizing between uses. If hymnals are in the pews, they should be removed. Single use worship aids may be utilized.
    • Recorded music or “virtual choirs” should be avoided.
  • RCIA: Postponed initiations may be completed during this time.  Pastoral leaders may determine the way and the time to do this safely.
    • Baptized candidates for full communion can be received at any Mass using the Rite of Reception starting at RCIA no. 487.
    • Archbishop Thompson is dispensing the elect from needing to complete any preparatory rites they missed during the suspension of public liturgies.
    • The baptismal liturgy from the Easter Vigil (starting with RCIA no. 218) would be used when rescheduling initiation of the elect, following the rubrics for a situation “outside the Easter Vigil.”
    • Unless the proper Mass of the day takes precedence (such as Sundays of Easter, solemnities, and other times listed in GIRM no. 372), this would be done within the Ritual Mass for Baptism. The Lectionary provides readings for “Christian Initiation Apart from the Easter Vigil” (nos. 751-755).
    • The priest should refrain from touching the water while blessing it, and all should follow the directives for Baptism found above.
    • For joint initiation of elect and candidates, utilize the combined rites found at RCIA no. 566. Given how long these rites can take, scheduling these initiations on weekdays is an option so as not to prolong the amount of time the faithful must remain in the church for a Sunday Mass during social distancing.
    • If a scheduled Mass will feature initiations, this should be clearly made known to parishioners ahead of time.
    • Parishes with larger groups of the elect can also do multiple small batches of initiations, if social distancing recommends it.
    • Parishes may wish to consider celebrating the sacraments of initiation at the Vigil Mass of Pentecost on Saturday, May 30th, for those who would have received them at the Easter Vigil. Parish could celebrate the Extended Form of the Vigil Mass for Pentecost, which is found in the Roman Missal and is similar to the Easter Vigil. The Extended Form includes four readings from the Old Testament, followed by the Gloria and Collect, an epistle reading, and Gospel (the Lectionary for Mass Supplement that was published in 2017 contains all the readings for the Extended Form). The sacraments of initiation would be celebrated after the homily.
  • First Communions: Parish may schedule First Communions at their discretion in a way that allows for the safe capacity numbers within their local plan to be maintained. These may be done at a special, invitation-only Mass, or in another way.

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