Local pastors appreciate that celebrating Mass indoors for their parishioners is no longer forbidden by health department rules but indicated outdoor Mass is here for the duration of the pandemic.

A Feb. 5 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court gave California churches the right to resume indoor worship services while still allowing the state to keep its ban on singing and chanting and limiting attendance at 25% of capacity. The decision responded to a lawsuit filed by two Southern California churches that argued the state’s restrictions on indoor worship services violated the Constitution since some businesses are allowed to remain open.

Father Pat Michaels, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Mill Valley, said the parish has begun holding indoor weekday Masses in addition to its livestreams and outdoor Sunday Masses. Parishioner reaction to the court decision and the indoor Masses has been mixed, he said, as some feel the Supreme Court acted prematurely and others argue the government should not have involved itself in worship matters.

“We live in polarized times, and on just about any issue you’re going to get people across the board in any parish,” he said.

Being able to celebrate Mass inside, though, means he can bring Mass indoors for anyone who wants to attend during bad weather. The parish also lacked any room outdoors to celebrate Mass during the week, so parishioners have an option now for daily Mass.

Father Michaels said one of the difficulties that the Supreme Court decision remedied was the state’s assumption that all worship spaces were the same level of risk. Our Lady of Mount Carmel seats 900 people, making it significantly different from smaller churches, he said.

“It’s very safe to be in our church,” he said.

At Holy Name of Jesus Parish and St. Anne of the Sunset Parish in San Francisco, pastor Father Dan Nascimento said celebrating Mass outdoors continues to be safer but the lifting of restrictions on indoor worship means they can better serve their parish and neighborhood.

On Ash Wednesday, Holy Name celebrated Mass indoors because outdoor liturgies would have blocked the sidewalk. At St. Anne, the parish opted to celebrate the evening Ash Wednesday Mass indoors rather than keep people outside at night.

“Our preference is to hold Mass outdoors unless the weather does not permit it or it’s safer to do indoors,” he said. “Covid isn’t to be taken lightly and we’re trying to keep everyone safe.”

Both parishes under his leadership are large, well-ventilated spaces, making it more straightforward to keep people safe indoors, he said. Father Nascimento said deciding where to safely hold Masses has been done in constant dialogue with parishioners, but envisioned livestreaming and outdoor Masses would remain at the parish until a majority of people are vaccinated.

“We’re in this together, walking together, and we want to take the bigger picture of being part of a community,” he said.

St. Gregory Parish, San Mateo, offers one indoor Mass on Sunday, along with an outdoor Mass on Saturday and Sunday. Father Mark Reburiano, the pastor, said his parishioners are evenly split on the issue of indoor Mass, but having one helps those who have missed the beauty and familiarity of their parish.

“Most of our masses are still outdoors as encouraged by the archbishop because of the health situation, but we give the possibility for parishioners to be inside, especially for those who are more spiritually nourished by the art and architecture of a building,” he said.

Parishioners have been grateful for the indoor Mass and the parish’s safety protocols, but Father Reburiano acknowledged holding Mass indoors was more difficult because of the additional volunteers needed and the expense of professional cleaning crews.

“But for me, just as a pastor, knowing the needs of the parishioners, I want to respond to that,” he said.

The above comes from a Feb. 22 story in Catholic San Francisco.