San Antonio churches are preparing the pews ahead of Easter this weekend with loosened pandemic protocols.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio announced earlier this week lighter restrictions in place for local Catholic churches for Holy Week. Last year, the Archdiocese suspended public masses through May, limiting churches to have no more than 10 people inside at a time.

Masses were mostly moved to virtual formats, and traditions such as the washing of feet on Holy Thursday were omitted from the Mass. During services, special prayers for those who are sick or have died of coronavirus were included.

This year, Easter will look more like previous years, although parishioners who are attending Mass in person are still being encouraged to observe social distancing and use masks, but at a reduced requirement of 3 feet rather than 6 feet.

These lessened restrictions follow “the recent increase in vaccinations” and “significant decline in COVID-19 new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths,” the Archdiocese said in its statement.

“These successes are likely to continue as more people are vaccinated each week. It is very important that people continue to be vaccinated, and that this positive momentum not be lost,” the Archdiocese stated. “We must still remain vigilant, however, it seems prudent to begin to relax some of the restrictions which reduce the number of parishioners who can participate in the Mass and receive the Eucharist.”

An actor hangs from a cross during a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
An actor hangs from a cross during a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The annual Passion of the Christ procession, which reenacts Christ’s journey to the cross, typically begins in Milam Park and goes to San Fernando Cathedral. The Passion was canceled last year and will be a virtual event this year. It will be broadcast on social media and Catholic Television of San Antonio (CTSA) at noon and 6:30 p.m. on Good Friday and at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Major Protestant churches around San Antonio such as Community Bible Church, Concordia Lutheran Church, Cornerstone Church, Summit Christian Center, and Oak Hills Church will continue with both in-person and online church services, as they have recently, for Easter.

Special holiday activities like Easter egg hunts for children, which were mostly canceled last year, are back this year at many churches.

Summit Christian Center will be having an Easter Egg Hunt event from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, said Joyce Shoemaker, special event coordinator for Summit Christian Center. The event will be outside and attendees are welcome to wear masks if they wish, she said.

The church will be fully open for Sunday services and will continue to follow CDC guidelines for best practices, she added.

Concordia Lutheran Church will also have an outdoor Easter egg hunt on Saturday, said Joy Hamman, director of marketing, public relations, and special events. Hamman added Concordia Lutheran will have one outdoor sunrise service Sunday at 6:30 a.m. and additional services will be indoor but will follow social distancing protocols. Parishioners will be asked to wear masks entering and exiting the church. 

“We’re so thankful to have the option of in-person services this year,” Hamann said. “Last year we were just trying to figure out how to make [an Easter service] even work.”

San Fernando Cathedral was nearly empty for its 2020 Easter service. The coronavirus pandemic forced many local churches to livestream their Easter services. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Even with more people being vaccinated and fewer COVID-19 cases, San Antonio residents seem divided still on how safe it is to gather for Easter. Northside Independent School District teacher Bianca Zapata said she and six other vaccinated educators plan to have a small barbecue get together to celebrate the holiday on Sunday.

“It’s honestly a big relief to just relax in good company with people who know exactly what you’re going through [with] hybrid teaching [and all of that],” Zapata said. “Now that we’re getting more kids on campus it’s even more of a big deal that we take time for ourselves to celebrate together.”

San Antonio baker and mother of two Erica Gamboa said she, her husband, and their two sons plan to stay home and celebrate the holiday just to be safe.

“I’m working Easter orders and not everyone we know is vaccinated just yet,” Gamboa said. “We’re going to have a small barbecue, just the four of us.”

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidance on how to celebrate Easter this year. Holiday tips include continuing to wear masks, socially distance, and take other precautions against the spread of COVID-19. 

Once you are fully vaccinated, you may be able to start doing some things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” the CDC said on its website. “You should get a COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to you.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...