Susanne DeGrasse of Orrington attended Mass for the first time in 11 weeks on Monday morning at St. Mary Catholic Church in Bangor.
The 74-year-old was emotional as she left the Ohio Street church.
“I have been feeling so needy to be able to appreciate our Mass after being removed from the Eucharist for so long,” she said. “I felt very humbled to receive the body of Christ today.”
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Gov. Janet Mills increased gathering limits for houses of worship from 10 to 50 beginning last Friday, provided social distancing and cleaning guidelines are followed. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which includes all of Maine, allowed in-person Masses to resume Monday.
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While drive-in confessions and some Masses have been held in church parking lots, communion has not been distributed as it is at in-person Masses.
St. Paul the Apostle Parish, which includes St. Mary’s and five other churches in Bangor, Brewer, Hampden and Winterport, has offered Masses online on weekends and weekdays with a priest, deacon and a handful of people in attendance to assist. The last Masses with Catholics in the pews were celebrated the weekend of March 14 – 15.
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Bishop Robert Deeley suspended Masses and other church activities on March 18 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. He also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, which continues to be in place.
The 50-person attendance limit means Catholics must register to attend Masses by either calling their parish offices or signing up online. They also are required to wear masks except when receiving the host.
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While Protestants believe that wine or grape juice and bread symbolize the blood and body of Christ, Catholics believe that those elements of communication become the blood and body of the savior during the Mass.
During at least June, Holy water fonts will remain empty, the sharing of wine during communion will be suspended and touching will not be allowed. Between Masses, pews, knobs, door handles, bathrooms, altars, musical equipment and touched surfaces will be cleaned and disinfected.
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The Rev. Frank Murray said Monday after Mass that worshipping with parishioners in person again was an emotional experience for him too.
“Walking down the aisle and having people around me as I went to the altar was a great feeling,” Murray, who has been celebrating Mass before empty pews, said. “Just being in church with parishioners again was very uplifting and sharing the body of Christ was emotional for me.”
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Murray said that even though he and the 30 are so worshippers who attended wore masks, he could see their eyes and tell that many were smiling.
“The masks don’t mask much,” he said.
Watch: Woman gets emotional after in-person Mass
Connie Henderson, 81, came to Mass with her husband, Greg Henderson, 77, from their home in Etna. Both converted to the faith 40 years ago.
“I have loved the church and it’s loved me to life,” an emotional Connie Henderson said. “Receiving Jesus is everything to me. Nothing else matters and I’m grateful. I’m grateful.”
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Sisters Taylor Guerrette, 18, and Allie Guerrette, 19, of Hampden usually attend weekend Mass with their parents at St. Matthew Catholic Church on Western Avenue in Hampden but they came to the 8:30 a.m. Mass in Bangor on Monday.
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“It’s been so long,” Allie Guerrette said. “We’ve been very eager to get back. It’s a great feeling to be able to see our fellow parishioners.”
Her sister agreed.
“To be back with the Lord —- nothing else compares to it,” Taylor Guerrette said.
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For information on Mass attendance, visit portlanddiocese.org.