Public Masses may resume with social-distancing guidelines in the Maryland portion of the Diocese of Wilmington beginning May 25 as the state has begun to ease coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.
In Delaware, no date has been set for resumption as diocesan officials are seeking clarification on state-mandated restrictions that would alter the celebration of Mass.
Delaware Gov. John Carney on May 18 issued an update for churches and other houses of worship in the state. The governor’s update said the guidance – created in coordination with the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) and the Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnerships – encourages virtual services but expands the ability for churches and other houses of worship to conduct in-person services with restrictions.
Carney’s office issued a four-page “Guidance for communities of worship” that would eliminate rites of worship in the Catholic Mass. The restrictions include mandates not required in Maryland and listed under the heading “The following rules must be followed.”
“We understand that certain faiths may require Communion to be administered person-to-person. Unfortunately, this is not permitted at this time,” according to the written document distributed by Carney.
Other restrictions aimed at holy Communion distribution are:
“Consecrated or blessed food or drink elements may be distributed via trays with each
element in a single-use, disposable container (i.e. cup, napkin, etc.).”
“Such materials may also be placed into a receptacle (i.e. using tongs or other barrier to
bare hand contact) if there is no direct contact with the material or between recipients.”
Under church law, the Eucharist must always be given by an ordinary or extraordinary minister of holy Communion.
Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, diocesan vicar general, said the diocese will make a decision on resuming Mass when officials get clarifications from the state.
The weekly obligation dispensation remains for Catholics in the diocese. People in high-risk categories are being encouraged to remain at home.
Bishop Malooly announced March 15 that no public Masses would be held in Delaware or Maryland’s Eastern Shore while the nation confronts the threat of coronavirus. The bishop dispensed of the Sunday obligation to attend Mass in the effort to limit the spread of the disease. Regulations limiting large gatherings were adopted in both states and the dispensation was intended to conform to those guidelines.
Gatherings must be limited to 30 percent of stated fire code occupancy, according to Carney, and strict social distancing must be maintained. People at high risk, including those over 65-years-old, and anyone who is sick should not attend in-person services, he said. Anyone 13-years-old or older must wear a face covering and children 2-years-old and younger should not wear a face covering due to risk of suffocation.
The governor said baptisms, weddings and funerals are allowed if the services follow these new rules. The state is still encouraging houses of worship to hold virtual services.
In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced May 13 loosening of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic in the state, but still emphasized “Safer at Home.” Effective May 15 at 5 p.m., he said, churches could begin holding indoor services with a maximum attendance of up to 50 percent capacity and with everyone following physical distancing and hygiene protocols including wearing masks and sanitizing hands.
“As we begin to slowly and cautiously lift restrictions at the state level, we are encouraged that local leaders have embraced our flexible, community-based approach to gradual reopenings,” said Hogan.
Wilmington is one of three dioceses in the United States to include more than one state.
“All of Delaware’s restrictions – including those inside our churches and other houses of worship – are intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Carney said in a statement issued by his office. “I know it’s difficult. Practicing your faith is a fundamental right. But Delawareans who are at higher risk should not attend in-person services. Do your best to practice your faith virtually. Wear a cloth face covering if you attend an in-person service. Remain at least six feet away from others. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Now’s not the time for Delawareans to let up.”
Service or gathering times must be staggered to permit cleaning of public spaces between services, in accordance with guidance from DPH and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exchange of materials of any kind during services is strongly discouraged.
Under Carney’s stay-at-home order, churches and other houses of worship are essential, but must adhere to basic safety precautions to protect congregants from COVID-19 infection and transmission.