The Newark Archdiocese laid out a three-phase plan to return its churches back to normal that starts on Sunday with private prayers. The Diocese of Trenton, meanwhile, will begin allowing drive-in services.

Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order prohibiting gatherings during the pandemic stopped all in-person religious services for all faiths.  The Catholic dioceses in New Jersey suspended in-person services and relieved parishoners of the obligation to receive Holy Communion during the season of Easter, which is celebrated for fifty days after Easter Sunday.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, said private prayer will be permitted during limited and designated hours starting Sunday or when pastors determine they can safely open. Individuals and families will be allowed to enter for "quiet prayer only."

Face coverings are required and participants are asked to bring their own hand sanitizers and wipes.

A parish staff member must be physically present in a church to ensure social distancing and sanitizing, Tobin said.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, or confession, also may be celebrated if social distancing can be maintained and masks are worn.

Phase 2 will incorporate the celebration of weekday Masses and funerals while Phase 3 will permit Sunday and Holy Day Masses. They will likely not be implemented until Murphy's executive orders on gatherings and non-essential travel are amended or lifted.

The Archdiocese earlier in the week announced the closure of 10 Catholic schools at the end of the academic year.

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The Trenton Diocese already began to allow private prayer and Cardinal David O'Connell on Friday gave permission for "in car" Mass to be held while churches continue offering live-streamed services.

Murphy issued an executive order, which takes effective Monday, allowing car gatherings in a drive-in setting. Vehicles must be 6 feet apart and all occupants must remain inside their vehicles.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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