By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

Bishop Michael G. Duca and diocesan officials are planning a return to public Mass celebration in response to a gradual loosening of the state’s stay-at-home orders.

Governor John Bel Edwards has scheduled a press conference May 11 and is expected to announce a decision regarding implementation of Phase One of the reopening of the state.

The governor on April 27 extended the stay-at-home order, which was set to expire April 30, to May 15.

When implemented, Phase One will ease restrictions on houses of worship and restaurants and open other businesses such as barber shops and hair salons. 

All of those businesses, including churches, will have strict social distancing restrictions and everyone must be masked.

Occupancy for those businesses will be limited to 25 percent of capacity. 

As Louisiana prepares for its next phase of reopening, business owners and faith leaders are encouraged to plan as well, including understanding their building’s maximum occupancy limits based on state fire marshal standards.

“We’ll pay close attention to the guidelines the governor announces (May 11),” Bishop Duca said in a statement. “We have over the past several weeks taken seriously his recommendations and orders.

“There are practical considerations that need to be addressed before an even modified return to sacramental life in our parishes. Once we have a good idea of what the health professionals are recommending, we’ll be better prepared to plan and incrementally implement what will likely be a new normal for our worship gatherings and liturgical celebrations.”

If Phase One is enacted, weekend Masses could potentially be celebrated May 16-17 with certain directives that are currently being considered by diocesan officials, but a return to public liturgical celebrations will more likely be later than mid-May. 

Louisiana has seen positive, improving trends statewide in terms of new case growth and new hospitalizations in several regions across the state. New cases and hospitalizations continue to increase or to plateau, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health. But Edwards noted “we have a little work to do before we meet the criteria to safely move to the next phase of reopening.”

The governor added he is hopeful that Phase One can be implemented in mid-May and said he is eager to reopen all areas of the state’s economy.

On April 3, Bishop Duca extended the suspension of Masses in addition to other liturgies and devotionals through April 30.