By Katherine Long | Editor
Churches in the Diocese of Syracuse can begin to ease social distancing and masking requirements, and the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will resume June 6, the diocese announced today.
“A year ago on Pentecost Sunday, the churches of the Diocese of Syracuse were re-opened for public worship with new protocols for our parish churches involving the wearing of masks and social distancing,” Bishop Douglas J. Lucia wrote in a letter to the faithful May 21. “Fast-forwarding 365 days, the public has been informed that we are now at a new stage in our response to COVID-19 and that persons who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks in public or maintain social distance.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said May 13 that fully vaccinated people — those who are at least two weeks out from receiving a single-dose vaccine or their second dose of a two-dose vaccine — no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance. New York State accepted the CDC’s guidance and updated its own rules and regulations regarding masks and social distancing for fully vaccinated individuals effective May 19.
Noting “there is rejoicing that we have come this far in dealing with the coronavirus, but there is still apprehension, also,” the bishop released revised protocols “meant to aid to a fuller return to Divine Worship on the Lord’s Day by providing for a less restrictive, but still safe worship environment.”
The changes, which are effective immediately, include the following:
• Masks and social distancing are no longer required for fully vaccinated people. All who prefer to continue wearing facial covering and social distancing are free to do so.
• Parishes are no longer required to pre-register attendees for Mass. Parishes may continue to use the screening processes they have in place at their own discretion.
• It is no longer necessary to block off every other pew.
• Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion may resume their ministry with proper hand hygiene before and after Holy Communion.
• The Offertory Procession with the gifts of the bread and wine can resume.
• Choirs with vaccinated members can operate as normal; unvaccinated members must maintain social distancing.
• Altar servers may resume their ministry with proper hygiene procedures.
• The Sign of Peace is optional, though there still should be no physical contact.
Some protocols, such as hand hygiene, will remain in place. Communion protocols will also remain: clergy and lay ministers of Holy Communion will wear masks for the distribution of Communion, Communion is still to be given in the form of bread only, and receiving Communion in the hand is still recommended.
Churches are also encouraged to create a “physical distance” section for those who are required to wear masks and engage in social distancing and for those who may be fully vaccinated but wish to continue to follow distancing practices.
“We rely on the goodness and honesty of our people to follow State guidelines regarding those fully vaccinated and unvaccinated,” the protocols note.
Though the revised protocols take effect immediately, “it may take our parishes until next weekend to implement them fully, so I ask for your patience and understanding,” the bishop wrote.
Along with the revised protocols, Bishop Lucia announced the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will resume June 6, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Catholics in the Diocese of Syracuse have been dispensed from the obligation since March 13, 2020.
“From apostolic times, the Church has always held the obligation to attend Holy Mass on the Lord’s Day as a most sacred responsibility,” the bishop wrote. “As of the first Sunday of June, the Catholic faithful are asked to resume their full and active participation in the Eucharistic liturgy through physical attendance at the Saturday Vigil Mass or Sunday Mass.”
Anyone who is frail or at risk due to advanced age or medical conditions, however, is always excused from this obligation, he noted.
“I hope the accompanying protocols will provide both reassurance and the desire for renewed participation for our diocesan family in the Sacred Liturgy,” the bishop said.