Following state, archdiocese lifts most pandemic restrictions

BRAINTREE -- In light of the state's lifting of most pandemic-related restrictions on May 29, the archdiocese's Pandemic Response Team has released new guidelines for Masses and other areas of parish ministry, including the end of masking and social distancing for vaccinated people.

As of May 29, people who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will no longer be required to wear masks or socially distance in parishes, excluding parish offices. The archdiocese noted that pastors and parishes will not be expected to ask people whether they have been vaccinated.

"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 in its May 20 guidance.

Pastors will have "a high degree of discretion" about implementing these changes and may choose to do so slowly or quickly, the archdiocese said.

All parishes are being required to publish a statement with the news that masks are no longer required for vaccinated people and that the state advises non-vaccinated people to continue wearing masks. This should be published in bulletins and on websites and announced at Mass.

Additionally, the archdiocese said parishes should "strongly consider" communicating several points to their parishioners. One is that people are free to continue wearing masks "as long as they like." Another is that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass has not yet been lifted -- and even when it is lifted, parishioners who feel ill should remain at home.

Regarding the setup of churches, the archdiocese recommends that provisions be made for people who are not vaccinated or do not want to sit near other people. This can be done by offering outdoor Masses, offering Masses at certain times for people who want to maintain social distancing, or cordoning off sections of the church for socially distanced seating. Surfaces do not need to be disinfected regularly, though some pastors may decide to continue this.

Missalettes and hymnals may once again be used and kept in pews. Congregational singing and choirs will also now be allowed. Sanitizing of pews and other surfaces will not be required.

Altar servers and liturgical ministers may again assist at the liturgy, and Communion calls may resume, though retraining of volunteers for these roles may be necessary.

Priests, deacons, and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist should continue to disinfect their hands before distributing Holy Communion, and are "strongly encouraged" to continue to wear masks while distributing. Hand sanitizer should be available in case someone receives Communion on the tongue. Communion under both species is still not allowed at this time.

When it comes to the Sign of Peace, the archdiocese noted that "It may well be that not everyone is ready for shaking of hands. Other forms for the Sign of Peace could be used," the archdiocese said.

In other areas of pastoral care, the archdiocese said nursing home visits and Masses may resume while respecting the protocols of the facility being visited. Funeral home services conducted by priests, deacons, and pastoral associates may resume at the pastor's discretion.

The archdiocese noted that "Not every parish is going to be able to restart everything at once."

"A priority should be given to the liturgy, and then to pastoral care, and then to other activities, such as faith formation and youth ministry, and finally to parish social activities," the archdiocese said.

The Pandemic Response Team issued separate guidelines regarding the reopening of parish offices on May 26.

They confirmed that employees and volunteers are not required to get the vaccine, though they "strongly recommend" receiving it, and pastors may require staff and visitors to remain masked. Mask requirements, whether for unvaccinated people or all visitors, should be posted and clearly visible at all entrances.

At the pastor's discretion, the use of parish facilities by non-parish groups and the rental of parish premises for non-parish uses may also resume.