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Italian government eases some restrictions on Catholic Masses during coronavirus lockdown

Father Davide Carbonaro, pastor of the Rome's Santa Maria in Campitelli parish, celebrates Mass May 18, 2020, the first day Masses with a congregation were allowed after the COVID-19 lockdown. The Italian government has eased some of the COVID-19 restrictions on the celebration of Mass. (CNS photo/Stefano Dal Pozzolo)

ROME — Although the number of new COVID-19 infections in Italy was creeping up in late July and early August, the country’s internal affairs ministry eased two restrictions placed on the celebration of Masses: allowing choirs and dropping the safe-distancing requirement for members of the same household.

The Italian bishops’ conference in late July already communicated to dioceses that the Internal Affairs Ministry’s coronavirus committee had decided that each region of Italy, depending on the local infection rate, should decide whether to maintain the limit of 200 people at any given Mass.

The bishops’ conference had asked for the limit to be lifted for church buildings that can ensure people are seated at least five feet apart and, “without difficulty,” still have room for more than 200 people.

At the same time, the bishops had asked for the return of choirs and for an end to the social-distancing rule for people living in the same house.

After a meeting Aug. 10, the government informed the bishops’ conference that choirs could return as long as precautions were taken to keep choir members at least three feet from each other and at least six feet from members of the congregation.

“That distance,” the note said, “can be reduced only by using physical barriers” such as plexiglass “to prevent contagion through droplets.”

The bishops also had asked for an exemption from the distancing rules for “family members who already live daily within the same domestic walls.”

The government agreed not only for family members living in the same house, but for family members who visit each other often and for anyone who “habitually shares the same space” or socializes together.