Cardinal issues mask requirement ahead of Christmas Masses

BRAINTREE -- With rising numbers of coronavirus cases and the likelihood of a further increase as people gather for winter holidays, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley has mandated that face masks must be worn at public Masses throughout the archdiocese, including weddings and funerals, for one month encompassing Christmas and New Year's. The measure will go into effect on the weekend of Dec. 18-19, 2021, and will expire on Jan. 17, 2022.

Since early September, parishes have been urged to encourage, but not require, mask-wearing for all indoor parish activities, unless their local community had stricter guidelines. Archdiocesan Catholic schools have maintained an indoor mask requirement since in-person classes resumed last year.

Father Paul Soper said the cardinal engaged in "significant consultation" on the mask requirement with the archdiocese's Presbyteral Council and announced his decision at the conclusion of their Dec. 9 meeting.

"It's a temporary measure, to try to be particularly responsible during this time," Father Soper said.

He cited the current spike in coronavirus cases, and the possibility that it could be driven further by family gatherings and larger crowds at Mass around the holidays.

"The opportunities for spread are accentuated at times like Christmas," he said.

The archdiocese's Pandemic Response Team released instructions for implementing the policy on Dec. 9 following the Presbyteral Council meeting.

The team's message said that parishes should have extra masks available, since some people attending Mass -- especially in the larger numbers typical of holidays like Christmas -- may not expect them to be required. Children under the age of five will not be required to wear masks.

Those involved with the liturgy -- celebrants, deacons, readers, altar servers, choir members, and instrumentalists --should wear masks when they are not speaking.

Churches are to continue providing designated areas for people who wish to maintain social distancing.

However, they are not required to disinfect after each Mass, or reimplement capacity limits and other coronavirus-related protocols from earlier in the pandemic.

Father Soper emphasized that the new mask requirement is a "gentle" and "very moderate" response, not "an open-ended mandate."

"There's nothing extreme about this response," he said.

Father Soper said that although they cannot fully stop the spread of the virus, "we can help a little bit. And if everybody's helping a little bit, that will help a lot."

The text of the announcement can be viewed on the archdiocese's Office of Risk Management website at