Pandemic Protocols Change at Seacoast Catholic Churches
The three Catholic dioceses at Seacoast churches have made changes to protocols put in place during the coronavirus although one major one remains in place.
The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in place at the Diocese of Manchester, Diocese of Portland and Archdiocese of Boston. But there are some differences beyond that for each respective organization.
The Diocese of Manchester earlier lifted its mask mandate in compliance with state and CDC guidelines and recommends wearing them as a best practice. The Diocese noted in its revised guidelines that mask wearing has become controversial in some churches.
"Numerous letters have come from those who refuse to wear a mask, and also numerous letters have come from families who arrived at their church and, at the sight of many not wearing masks, have felt the need to return home and not attend mass. This presents a sad and pressing reality that continues," the Diocese guidelines read.
Spokesman Tom Bebbington told Seacoast Current that the Diocese is following the advice of state officials who say that masks should be worn and social distancing observed at indoor gatherings when not all are fully vaccinated or others’ vaccination status is unknown.
"With a major civil holiday approaching and an anticipated influx of visitors, we will continue to offer our best practices for public health and safety for the time being based upon the situation here in New Hampshire, and masks are strongly recommended as a best practice for those who are able to wear them," Bebbington said. "We continue to monitor changing developments and look forward to the day when the health and safety of our people allow us to gather together without restrictions."
Priests are not allowed to wear masks during Mass except during Holy Communion which is permitted again during mass.
The CDC said that those who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 no longer need to wear a mask indoors or out but did not offer guidance on how to obtain proof of having taken the shot.
The 50 percent capacity limit has been eliminated but social distancing of six feet is still required.
Choirs and the congregation will be allowed to sing during mass, ushers may take collection and Holy Water fonts may be filled.
Starting Monday, the Diocese of Portland will also end its mask requirement for anyone inside or outside a church. Capacity limits, social distancing between individuals or families, advance registration and contact tracing have also been eliminated.
Choir practice may be held indoors without distancing and the distribution of Holy Communion to the homebound has been restored.
Churches will also provide other areas within the church for those to attend service in person but are not yet comfortable being close to others.
Services will also continue to be live-streamed.
“The strict adherence to state and diocesan guidelines has led to the successful operation of our churches since last June. I am so grateful for the many staff, volunteers, and parishioners who sacrificed and followed the protocols to ensure that Maine Catholics were able to participate in Mass and receive the Eucharist over the last year,” Bishop Robert Deeley said in a statement.
The Archdiocese of Boston, which covers Essex County in Massachusetts, is also dropping its mask and social distancing requirements as of May 29 for those who have received the COVID-19 vaccination but church personnel will not be asking about an individual's status.
"Parishes and pastors will not be policing the population. Every parishioner and every family will be expected to make a sound, reasonable decision about when they are ready to take off their masks and be near other people," the Archdiocese said.
Singing may resume during mass, Decons will be able to resume the full liturgical roles and the use of confessionals is permitted.
Individual churches have discretion about resuming certain parts of masses, including handshakes during the Sign of Peace, the use of hymnals in pews and taking the collection.
The Boston Archdiocese also made a point of recognizing those who have been on the front lines during the pandemic.
"There are many heroes among our volunteers that have kept our parishes going during these difficult times. They should be acknowledged and thanked, collectively and personally," the Archdiocese wrote.