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Diocese of Wilmington issues liturgical guidance, encourages masks at Mass as COVID infection rates rise

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Msgr. Steven P. Hurley distributes ashes during Ash Wednesday services at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. Dialog photo/Don Blake

As COVID-19 infection rates rapidly increase in both Delaware and Maryland, primarily due to the Omicron variant, the Diocese of Wilmington has provided parishes with liturgical guidance that returns some of the practices that were in place earlier this year to help mitigate spread of the disease.

Msgr. Steven P. Hurley, Diocese of Wilmington vicar general and moderator of the curia, said in a letter to priests the next several weeks will be critical as health experts predict the infection rates will continue to rise.

Among the new protocols effective Jan. 6, Msgr. Hurley said parishes are to encourage all attendees to be masked while attending Mass.

Gov. John Carney on Jan. 10 signed a revision to the State of Emergency declaration, requiring Delawareans to wear masks in indoor public settings. Churches and other houses of worship are exempted from the mask requirement.

Other portions of the liturgical guidance include:

  • Clergy and volunteers are strongly encouraged to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters.
  • Clergy and liturgical ministers at all parishes are encouraged to wear masks, exceptwhen speaking publicly.
  • Mass attendees over the age of 5 who are not vaccinated for COVID-19 must wear a mask. No parish should be checking the vaccine status of those attending Mass, but rely on the person’s compliance with these guidelines.
  • Ministries and non-liturgical parish activit
    The Chrism Mass was celebrated by Bishop Malooly at Cathedral of St. Peter in Wilmington on July 16. Priests in attendance wore masks and practiced social distancing in accordance to health guidelines. (Dialog photo/Don Blake)

    ies should be carefully evaluated and, if possible, held virtually or with limited contact. This effort includes third-party use of facilities, such as Scouts, community groups, etc. Parishes should consider rescheduling in-person social gatherings scheduled for January or February to later in the year.

  • Parishes should carefully evaluate the safety of continuing with choirs. If parishes determine the choir can safely perform, then their use should continue. If a parish deems it unwise to continue with choirs, then only a single cantor should be used.
  • Clergy and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion must carefully adhere to proper hand sanitization following the distribution of communion on the tongue.
  • Parishes may continue to make holy water available in fonts.
  • Filled hand sanitizing dispensers should be available at entrances.
  • Clergy should be mindful about social distancing and hand shaking when greeting parishioners before and after Mass.
  • Parishes may wish to consider devoting a section of the pews for those who would prefer socially distanced seating, reserving every other pew, etc.
  • Each parish should effectively communicate safety measures to parishioners and visitors.