DETROIT (ChurchMilitant) - Of Texas' 15 dioceses, five will be offering public Masses this weekend. The bishops of Tyler, Austin, Galveston-Houston, Fort Worth and Victoria jumped on fellow Catholic governor Greg Abbott's executive order and are opening their parishes for Mass, but with strict provisions and limitations.
The Houston Chronicle noted that after Gov. Abbott gave the green light to churches reopening, many churches in the Houston area declined.
But in the diocese of Galveston-Houston, "the largest Faith in the region bucked the trend" by announcing parishes in Southeast Texas will be allowed to resume Masses this weekend under a "phased reopening" that stresses social distancing and limits the number of people allowed to worship at one time.
While not reopening this weekend, the diocese of Corpus Christi has announced it will reopen for public Masses the following weekend, May 9–10.
In South Texas, the dioceses of Brownsville, San Antonio, Laredo and El Paso have all opted to continue suspension of Mass.
In his statement to the diocese of Tyler, Bp. Joseph Strickland issued detailed guidelines about what reopening would involve. Some dioceses said they couldn't reopen because they weren't prepared and needed time to form committees and the proper protocols.
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo expressed the tension between caution and the desire to return to fellowship.
On one hand, this closure of churches to the public has been necessary for the safeguarding of public health, and we must continue to be mindful of the advice of governmental authorities. At the same time, I have heard the continued pleas of so many of the faithful and priests for access to the spiritual strength and nourishment of the sacraments after enduring so many weeks of stay-at-home orders.
In his letter to the faithful, Bp. Joe S. Vásquez, who oversees 123 parishes and six university student centers, talked about how Catholics have had to "endure" suspension of Mass and the sacraments. Like Bp. Strickland, Bp. Vásquez clearly was eager to lift the suspension as soon as government officials made it possible and had already drafted protocols for his parishes to follow.
Unfortunately, not all Catholics will be returning to Mass.
Governor Abbott's executive order singled out people over the age of 65 and "strongly encouraged" them to stay at home as much as possible. All of the dioceses reopening this weekend explicitly told parishioners over the age of 65 to stay home. Since this population is considered especially vulnerable, their wait for participation in the sacraments will have to wait.
In their guidelines, the bishops whose dioceses are reopening included information about social distancing including:
Guidelines also included special instructions for Eucharistic ministers and others in service to the Mass.