All San Diego County parishes can celebrate Mass indoors once again, but many have chosen to remain outside anyway.

It’s the latest chapter in an ongoing saga that began with the suspension of all public Masses on March 16, as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. San Diego County Masses resumed on June 8 and continued to be celebrated indoors through July 14, after which new state restrictions required parishes to shift to outdoor liturgies.

In a Sept. 1 letter to priests, Bishop Robert W. McElroy informed pastors that Masses at San Diego County parishes could return indoors as early as the next day, but he also gave them wide latitude to determine what was in their parish’s best interests.

“You should make the choice that best fits your physical situation and community desires,” the bishop wrote.

At Catholic parishes countywide, pastors have taken that recommendation to heart. (In Imperial County, public Masses resumed during the Sept. 19-20 weekend, after a nearly three-month suspension, only outdoors.)

Additionally, with Bishop McElroy’s dispensation from Sunday Mass attendance still in effect, parishes are continuing to livestream Masses for those not yet comfortable with attending Mass in person, even with safety protocols in place.

The situation remains fluid. On Sept. 22, San Diego County narrowly avoided being placed into the most restrictive tier in the state’s re-opening process, which would have meant another suspension of indoor Masses along with other restrictions. As of press time, it seemed likely that the county’s luck might soon run out. Local Catholics are encouraged to check with their parishes for the most up-to-date information about Mass times and locations.

For Father Peter Navarra, pastor of St. Joseph Cathedral, it was “a moment of joy” when he received permission to begin celebrating Mass inside once again.

He had been offering outdoor Masses in the courtyard adjacent to the church by necessity, but he said the arrangement was “a little troublesome and a little annoying” because of the parish’s location. The liturgy had to contend with “all the sounds and noises” of downtown San Diego.

Conceding that outdoor Masses can be quite nice at suburban parishes where quiet moments are filled with birdsong, Father Navarra said, “We have a siren here every half-hour at least.”

Father Cávana Wallace, pastor of St. Margaret Parish in Oceanside, is content with the current arrangement of celebrating Mass outside in the church piazza, which he likened to “a mini St. Peter’s Square surrounded by gardens and natural landscape.”

While conceding that many miss the “smells and bells” of liturgy inside the church, he said, “Offering a simple Mass in the piazza has allowed us to appreciate, not only the essentials of worship but also a much needed refreshing environment to still the mind and soul in the midst of so much anxiety around us.”

Full story at The Southern Cross.