PHOENIX - Large gatherings were one of the first things to be stopped as COVID-19 became widespread in Arizona. Sunday mornings were different for the faithful, as they turned to a computer screen for mass instead of a lectern.
This Sunday, a day after the stay-at-home order expired, mass was partially reopened.
St. Augustine in Phoenix - like every church, had to close to stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Couldn’t believe they would do that to stop it," said parishoner Viola Regalado. "We come every Sunday all the time and then to not be able to come anymore - it’s hard."
Regalado was one of the 30 parishioners invited to the first Sunday.
The rest of thousands of the faithful still have to watch online, but it’s a sign the pews are getting closer to where they were.
"It will take a while to get used to normal but it’s just doing it this way," said Father Carlos Gomez. "We’re learning with them."
There is hand sanitizer at the entrance, and every other row was blocked off. Gomez said he asked parishioners to not arrive early.
"Not too much time inside the building, inside the church, so we can have a little spread-out time," said Gomez.
It's been tough for Gomez. For Catholics, the call and response is an important part of mass. Even though the services were streamed, the call was met with silence.
"Really miss not having communion and that togetherness - that feeling I have inside when you’re here," said parishoner Leticia Ramirez.
It will be invitation only for a while to try to limit the size of the mass. Even if it’s only for a small group, at least the singers' voices will be heard in person. The sermon will be said to faces, not a lens. And the prayers? They’ll be done together.
"The day finally came to have the door open to be here with our Lord," said Viola Regalado. "It’s not the same being home, watching it there with your family...to see so many parishioners here with us - it’s just amazing."