The following article was originally published June 7, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.
Story by Josie Huang
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels is the main church of the largest archdiocese in the country, able to seat 3,000 people.
But the pandemic has forced the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to overhaul how it ministers to its five million person flock.
The angular, cavernous cathedral rising above the 101 Freeway reopened Sunday with a self-imposed limit of 100 congregants per mass. Attendees were seated six feet apart, and every other pew was left empty.
The ritual of taking Communion had been deconstructed. Both the parishioner and priest extend their arms as far as they can to exchange the Eucharist. The parishioner then walks to a spot about 12 feet away marked with an "X," and consumes the Eucharist there. Only the "body of Christ," not the "blood," or wine, is being offered.
Every other pew is left empty. Households can sit together but be 6 ft apart from others.— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) June 7, 2020
To take communion you extend your arms as much as possible, the priest would do the same. You would then walk 12 ft to the side, pull down your mask and consume the Eucharist there. pic.twitter.com/EmOuhHf6EI
Elayne Gonzalez, a homemaker from East L.A., brought her two daughters, ages 11 and 18, to the cathedral because her own parish allows only 15 people at a time under the new reopening rules.
She said it was uncomfortable to sit with a mask on for almost an entire hour, but it was a small price to pay to be in church, especially during a pandemic and ongoing protests throughout the region.
"I really feel that the world's in an ugly place right now," said Gonzalez, her eyes welling up. "And I feel that when you come here, you feel close to God and you know that he can lift everything up, and through Him all things are possible."
Gonzalez said she felt very safe because of the precautions the Archdiocese was taking against COVID-19. They also include:
- Before you enter, volunteers ask if you've had a fever
- You're required to wear face coverings
- Pews are marked with numbers
- If you later get sick, you're asked to contact the archdiocese with your seat number
- Parishioners are given hand sanitizer before entering the sanctuary
- Pews, bathrooms and high-contact surfaces are sanitized between services
"It's different," Gonzalez said, "but if there's measures that we have to do in order to keep everybody safe, I'm okay with that."
The Archdiocese had planned to reopen the cathedral on Wednesday, but waited several days because of the protests that have been taking place downtown.
Father David Gallardo said he was just as excited as his parishioners to have in-person services.
"After two-and-a-half months of being in this massive Cathedral with just a camera, it's so good to actually see faces sitting in those pews," Gallardo said. "It's been moving for me just to see a number of our parishioners' tears, especially as they received the body of Christ."
When Joi Cornel heard on Sunday morning that the cathedral was reopening, she got in her car and rushed downtown.
The Los Angeles bookkeeper showed up about 10 minutes before the 10 a.m. English mass, but it was already too late. The cathedral had already hit its 100-person limit.
Turned away, Cornel mustered a smile, talking about how she had virtually traveled the world during the pandemic, having watched streamed masses in Rome and her native Philippines. But nothing was the same as sitting in the pews, and taking communion from her priest.
"It gives me strength, like spiritually," said Cornel, growing teary. "And it's food for my soul."