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Archdiocese considers relaxing restrictions as COVID-19 trends improve

A choir member sings at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Good Friday 2021. If COVID-19 statistics continue to improve, singing by members of the congregation in the Archdiocese of Boston may also be allowed beginning next month. Pilot photo/Gregory L. Tracy

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BRAINTREE -- Though masking and social distancing may remain the norm for some time, other aspects of parish activities -- including Masses, social gatherings, and summer events -- may look more normal after Pentecost, if coronavirus statistics continue to trend in a positive direction.

On April 16, the Archdiocese of Boston released a two-part revision to its coronavirus protocols, with some immediate changes and several conditional future changes that would take effect on Pentecost Sunday, May 23.

Effective immediately, parishes may hold processions, including entrance and recessional processions at Mass as well as outdoor processions typically held for the month of May and the feast of Corpus Christi. Participants and all those present must wear masks and maintain a six-foot distance from each other.

Several other aspects of worship and areas of parish life will be allowed to change beginning on Pentecost Sunday, provided that coronavirus case numbers, positivity rates, hospitalization rates, and deaths improve over the course of April and early May.

If that is the case, congregational singing would again be allowed, though members of the congregation would still be required to wear masks while singing. Since reusable hymnals and missalettes still cannot be used, parishes could prepare one-time worship aids to be distributed and taken home after Mass. Alternatively, the archdiocese suggested, parishes could put music or lyrics on their websites for Mass attendees to access on their phones, or project the words on a screen, if they have the equipment to do so.

Choirs would also be able to resume singing, while standing in a straight line rather than in the traditional curved formation, remaining six feet apart from each other and as far from the congregation as possible. Choir members and instrumentalists would need to wear "well-fitting masks." Masks and distancing would also be used during rehearsals, which would need to take place in large, well-ventilated spaces and include breaks in which the space could be aired out.

Although the archdiocese discourages "coffee and donut type gatherings" after Mass, the post-Pentecost guidelines would permit eating prepackaged food and drink at parish functions. Masks would need to be worn at all times except when eating or drinking, and the people would need to be distanced. If indoors, the space should be "ventilated as highly as possible," the archdiocese said.

Any group serving food would need the direct permission of the pastor, who would have the discretion to decide whether it could be done safely.

Finally, during the summer months, parishes would be able to hold summer functions, such as Vacation Bible Schools and youth group activities. The archdiocese urged flexibility in making summer plans, safety in carrying them out, and caution in making plans that would involve travel or overnight activities, since they could be cancelled if circumstances change.

"We do not know what the state protocols will be during the summer, and no one can guess right now," the archdiocese said in its revisions.

The archdiocese will provide final guidance in the week leading up to Pentecost Sunday, May 23. If any state restrictions are relaxed, such as those regarding masks, social distancing, and the cleaning of surfaces, the archdiocese will issue new protocols taking those changes into account.

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