Catholic churches in Maine will begin holding drive-in Masses in the coming weeks, a move allowed under Gov. Janet Mills’ phased plan to reopen businesses and churches closed because of the coronavirus.

The first phase of Mills’ reopening plan takes effect on Friday and allows some businesses and outdoor activities to reopen, including drive-in movie theaters and “limited drive-in, stay-in-your-vehicle religious services,” according to the governor’s plan.

The Diocese of Portland on Wednesday announced that Bishop Robert Deeley is permitting the celebration of public Masses in the parking lots of Catholic churches. There will be “strict protocols in place for the protection, safety and health of all participants,” according to the diocese. The first drive-in Masses are scheduled to be held in Auburn and Gorham starting May 9.

But other churches and houses of worship in Maine may hold off on drive-in services until more guidance is provided, or choose to focus instead on continuing online services, according to Rev. Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches. She said there is “deep concern” from Maine Council of Churches leaders about bringing people together in a parking lot, where it could be tempting for some people to get out of their cars to visit with friends.

“It would need to be carefully thought out and carefully planned for,” Field said of drive-in services. “It opens up a host of challenges to keep people safe.”

The Maine Council of Churches plans to release an open letter to Gov. Janet Mills later this week seeking guidance from state health officials in adapting a three-phase model for returning to church based on a plan released by the Wisconsin Council of Churches.

The first drive-in Catholic Masses will be held starting May 9 and 10 in Gorham and Auburn, and the diocese has set up protocols to prevent people from coming too close to each other.

St. Anne Church in Gorham will hold Mass at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. The priest will lead Mass from the second story deck of the rectory. Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn will have its Mass at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

The times and locations for other drive-in Masses will be posted on the diocese website and Facebook page as they are scheduled.

During drive-in Catholic Masses, all parishioners must remain in their cars at all times and only people who live in the same household should be in the same vehicle. Cars must have one empty parking space between them in the parking lot and churches will not be open for restroom use.

Deeley announced that social distancing must be maintained by those who minister at drive-in Masses, including celebrants, cantors and lectors. Holy Communion will not be distributed until everyone’s safety can be assured, according to the diocese. Deeley has invited parishioners to instead participate in an Act of Spiritual Communion during Masses.

“This decision to expand the ways in which we gather for worship reflects that Catholics have a deep desire to gather as a faith community, which is essential to our identity as Christians. But I also know that many Catholics, here in Maine, across the nation, and around our world, feel the profound loss of not being able to receive Holy Communion,” Deeley said in a statement. “While it is a great sacrifice not to share in this sign of our unity, it is also a tremendous act of love and charity towards one another, especially the most vulnerable among us. We continue to look forward to a time when it will be possible safely to receive Holy Communion.”

Catholic churches will continue to live-stream services as they have done since March. Parishes will also continue to have drive-through confessions, drive-in adoration and use social media for other programs.


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