A number of parishioners have reached out to me with concerns about parish practices during Mass related to COVID, especially the wearing of masks. With the COVID Delta variant still dominating the news, this is a particularly pointed issue in our communities. Also, since children are returning to area schools there have been updated procedures and protocols from the previous school year, including at Nativity parish school. All ages are not yet able to be vaccinated, and some children and adults may have medical conditions that do not allow for vaccination at this time. There is currently no legal mandate to be vaccinated, while some may have authentic conscientious objections to the COVID vaccine. Unlike the previous year, there are many more variables for churches and schools to consider.
As such, all pastors in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati have received the following continuing guidance:
“Regarding masking while in church, there is no new direction from the Pastoral Center at this time. As we have stated in the past, please follow the guidance of the state and local health authorities. If those bodies recommend masking, then you should recommend (but not require) masking. If they require masking, then you should require masking.”
I have noted to the Pastoral Center of the Archdiocese the discrepancy this causes for parishes with schools. No revised guidelines have been given to pastors.
At this time, the guidelines from state and local health authorities for churches and schools are not the same. This is challenging for parishes with schools, like Nativity. Due to increased exposure during the school day (7 hours v. 1 hour for weekend Mass) and that vaccines are not available for all ages of students, parish schools may require masks. Current guidelines for schools recommend either masks or social distancing. To accommodate all students in Nativity church for weekly school Mass, social distancing is not possible, so we are requiring masks.
For weekend Masses, given that I am not to require masks unless the State of Ohio and/or Hamilton County requires them, the wearing of masks to all other Masses other than the school Mass is recommended but not required. However, I have asked that all those volunteering to distribute Holy Communion resume wearing masks at that time. I will resume wearing a mask as well during the entrance procession and recessional.
Finally, as a reminder, though the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and other Holy Days of obligation is in effect, under universal canon law this obligation does not apply to those who are seriously ill or have a serious health risk. Likewise, the obligation does not apply to those who care for those who cannot attend Mass in person (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2181). Those who are legitimately excused from Mass on Sundays and other Holy Days are encouraged to spend time in prayer, meditating on the Death and Resurrection of the Lord, reading the Sacred Scriptures, and uniting themselves to Christ in his worship of the Father of us all. Those who are legitimately excused are also encouraged to view a broadcast of the Mass which is intended for those who cannot participate in person, possibly praying the prayer of spiritual communion at that time.
Let us continue to pray for an end to this pandemic once and for all. May we be especially mindful of our sisters and brothers in the developing world who do not have easy access to vaccines or protective equipment. The following prayer is from SECAM, the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences in Africa and Madagascar, for all those affected by the coronavirus:
Almighty and merciful Father, who show your love to all your creation.
We come before you asking for a quick control of the coronavirus currently ravaging our world.
Hear graciously the prayers we make for those affected by the virus in various parts of the world.
Grant healing to the sick, eternal life to the dead, and consolation to the bereaved families.
We pray that an effective medicine to combat the sickness be speedily found.
We pray for the relevant governments and health authorities that they take appropriate steps for the good of the people.
Look upon us in your mercy and forgive us our failings.
In Christ through Mary and Joseph,