By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer, and Katherine Long | Editor

Hours after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced — and Bishop Douglas J. Lucia affirmed — June 6 that houses of worship could immediately hold public services at 25% capacity, some parishes quickly shifted gears.

Holy Cross Church in DeWitt said it would celebrate that day’s 4 p.m. vigil Mass inside. “Due to this very recent news and the fact that Holy Cross is already prepared for appropriate social distancing inside the church, we will move all Masses inside the church this weekend,” the parish posted on its Facebook page. Parishioners were reminded to register in advance and to follow signage and instructions at the church. “We look forward to taking these new step[s] towards celebrating the liturgy together as a parish family,” the church said.

The Diocese of Syracuse released protocols for sanitizing, social distancing, and crowd size on May 22 as Bishop Lucia approved resumption of limited public Masses in the diocese beginning May 30 and 31. That weekend, parishes offered the first public services in the diocese since the bishop suspended public Masses March 16 as the coronavirus pandemic accelerated.

Based on statistics showing a decline in spread of the virus, Central New York and the Southern Tier are expected to move as early as June 12 to Phase 3 of the state’s four-phase reopening plan. The state’s plan does not say when houses of worship can increase capacity to 50%.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, who pushed in recent weeks for the increased capacity, welcomed the policy. “Our community has been tested in many ways in the last 90 days and we need these leaders,” he said June 8 during a public briefing.

McMahon attended Sunday Mass at Most Holy Rosary in Syracuse. “I thought it was great. It was very helpful,” he said.

In announcing the 25% policy, Cuomo cited declining hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. The policy applies to regions in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which Central New York and the Southern Tier entered May 29.

Officials said large gatherings could spread the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Early cases in New York emerged after a person with the virus attended religious services. Some U.S. Catholic Churches have reopened, only to close after clergy or congregants tested positive for the disease.

“Be smart,” Cuomo said at his June 6 briefing, noting that people must wear masks and observe social distancing.

Parishes may resume in-person ministries and activities, such as parish council meetings and youth ministry events, at 25% capacity and following safety guidelines, diocesan officials said June 8. “Social gatherings and large gatherings of any kind are not permissible,” Danielle Cummings, chancellor and director of communications said in an email to diocesan staff and clergy.

Bishop Lucia has said he’s eager to resume public Masses, but consistently has stressed safety for clergy and worshipers. Some parishes may not be able to resume Masses immediately as they plan services that meet safety protocols, he said in a May 27 letter. Parishes are taking a variety of approaches.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Baldwinsville will move Masses indoors June 13 and 14. “We welcome the governor’s announcement today,” the parish said in a June 6 message to parishioners. “However our plan remains the same — parking lot Masses this weekend, June 6/7. We look forward to Mass inside next weekend at 25% capacity.”

St. Lucy’s in Syracuse will livestream Mass via Zoom “until it’s safe and we can have everyone present,” Father Jim Mathews said June 7. “I do not want to do Mass in the parking lot and I do not want to have 25% of our people invited to come and the rest cannot come.”

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