Parishioners attend Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain in June 2020. Effective Sep. 4-5, the archdiocese is urging all parishes to require that masks be worn at all parish activities and requiring that parishes set aside an area for those who prefer to remain masked at Mass. Pilot photo/Jacqueline Tetrault
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With COVID-related case numbers and hospitalizations on the rise, the Archdiocese of Boston is urging pastors to encourage participants in Masses and parish activities to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.
"Pastors are urged to encourage (but not require) all participants in parish activities to wear masks," effective on the weekend of Sept. 4-5, the archdiocese said in an Aug. 26 message communicating new COVID-19 protocols to parishes.
The new parish protocols come a week after the Catholic Schools Office, following state guidance, implemented an indoor mask mandate until Oct. 1 for all students, teachers, and staff members over age five in archdiocesan-controlled schools.
In addition to encouraging the wearing of masks by all parishioners, the archdiocese is mandating that parishes have "clearly marked, clearly communicated, and clearly enforced areas of the church for people who want to wear masks and be sitting only near people who are wearing masks" and also said, "pastors should clearly communicate the state advisory that all unvaccinated people are advised to wear masks indoors."
It also said priests and ministers of Communion should disinfect their hands and wear masks for the distribution of Communion.
The archdiocese noted that parishes in communities that have implemented indoor mask mandates must comply with those requirements and said that, while the City of Boston indoor mask mandate exempts houses of worship, Boston parishes are encouraged to voluntarily implement their own mask mandate.
The new protocols also encourage parishes to delay or suspend faith formation in-person gatherings until after Oct. 1, "when hopefully the spread of COVID in the state will have abated."
If a parish chooses to hold faith formation or youth ministry gatherings in person before that date, all participants aged five and older will be required to wear masks. Children aged two to five years can wear masks at their parents' discretion, and children under two will not be required to wear masks.
The archdiocese encouraged parishes to continue offering online and home-based programs for faith formation and youth ministry and said that "parishes will not be allowed to require in-person attendance at faith formation and youth ministry programming this year as a condition for receiving First Holy Communion or Confirmation or for any other reason."
The archdiocese said it "will remain closely in touch with Gov. Baker's office and will adjust these protocols, if necessary, in response to any change in the state mandates."
"The Archdiocese of Boston, following the example of the cardinal and the Holy Father, continues to urge vaccination as the most effective way to bring this pandemic under control and keep families safe," the message said.