New COVID-19 protocols will go into effect in the Diocese of Wilmington effective May 21, the diocese announced May 20. They were issued by Msgr. Steven Hurley, moderator of the curia for the diocese.
Under the guidance, clergy and volunteers are strongly encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccination if they have not already received one. Under guidelines issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fully vaccinated people – those who have reached two weeks since their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single Johnson and Johnson shot – can resume activities without a mask or physical distancing except where required by federal or local laws or regulations. No one will be required to present proof of their vaccination status.
According to the diocese, all priests and deacons who are not vaccinated must continue to follow previous mask guidance in order to comply with state law. They may remove the mask only when speaking. The rule covers the procession and recession; during the Liturgy of the Word when others are proclaiming readings; during musical selections; and for distribution of Holy Communion.
Parishes should post signage at entrances indicating that fully vaccinated people are not required to wear masks, but they who are not are still required to cover their nose and mouth with a mask.
“There is no expectation to have all of this in place for this weekend’s Masses as it will take some time to properly implement,” Msgr. Hurley said in his guidance to pastors. “However, we do ask that you be in compliance by The Feast of Corpus Christi (June 6).
The dispensation from the Sunday obligation, which has been in place since March 12, 2020, remains in place. Parishes are encouraged to make their services available through livestreaming or recording.
As far as church capacity is concerned, the states of Delaware and Maryland do not have social-distancing mandates, with Delaware’s taking effect May 21.
“Some parishioners may be uneasy about these new guidelines,” the diocesan guidance reads. “Therefore, pastors may designate some seating at Mass where wearing a mask and social distancing is still required, but this designated area should not comprise more than one-third of the total seating capacity of the church.”
In addition, pastors may establish special Mass times during which all are required to wear masks and social distance. The majority of Masses and of all seating should be mask-optional with open seating, the diocese said.
Guidance regarding hand-washing remains intact. Parishes are encouraged to continue to offer hand sanitizer.
All parishes are instructed to resume their pre-pandemic Mass schedules if they have not already done so, unless the changes were made for reasons other than COVID-19. Masses held outside are prohibited. Anyone who is symptomatic is not allowed to enter church. The taking of temperatures and the use of plastic shields during the distribution of Communion is to cease, the diocese said. Also, taking reservations for Mass attendance will no longer be allowed.
Clergy are allowed to greet parishioners as they arrive or depart Mass. Pews no longer need rope, tape or other markers. Missalettes may be returned to the pews. Entrance and recessional processions should return to the center aisle, and the procession of the gifts should resume.
The sign of peace will be reinstated without physical contact between non-family members. Altar servers may serve with the permission of their parents, according to the diocese. Lectors may perform their duties in the normal manner, although those who are not vaccinated must follow previous mask guidance. Ushers who are not vaccinated must continue to wear a mask.
Collection baskets and any other materials are not to be passed from one family to another. “Rather, stationary baskets that are easy to find or collection baskets with poles may be used for collecting donations,” the diocese said.
The distribution of Communion is to resume at the proper time during Mass, although the Precious Blood will not be distributed. Those who are gluten-intolerant should make arrangements with the priest before Mass. Those who insist on receiving Communion on the tongue are not to be denied. The eucharistic minister is encouraged to sanitize his or her hands prior to distributing the sacrament to the next individual.
Home visits by extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion may resume as well. It is encouraged that those who make these visits be fully vaccinated. If not, he or she should wear a mask and limit visits to 15 minutes.
As for music, cantors may perform their ministry in the usual manner, the diocese said. The cantor should be located away from the assembly. If he or she is wearing a mask, they may remove it while singing. A small group of singers – with a maximum of 10 – may be used if proper physical distancing is possible. Full choirs should not rehearse or sing until further notice.
Funerals can resume their pre-pandemic form. Wakes, viewings and visitations can take place at the pastor’s discretion. Eulogies are permitted, also at the pastor’s discretion. Weddings, baptisms and reconciliation are to resume to pre-COVID-19 form. Reconciliation rooms and confessionals are subject to proper sanitization. Anointing of the sick also will return to pre-pandemic form, although restrictions at hospitals and other facilities should be followed.
Priests may anoint those with COVID-19 provided the priest is under 60 and in good health, the diocese said.
In-person gatherings are allowed on parish campuses again or at third-party venues. In Delaware, those events are limited to 250 people indoors and outdoors; anything larger requires an approved plan from the state Division of Public Health. Maryland has no capacity limit, but there should be adequate space for distancing. Carnivals and other social gatherings are allowed.
“The diocese encourages each location to carefully discern if moving forward with such events is truly in the best interest of the parish or parish community,” the diocese informed priests.
Finally, the use of Holy Water fonts is encouraged. Hand sanitizer should be nearby, and fonts are to be cleaned regularly. Parishes are discouraged from using machines that automatically dispense Holy Water.