It has now been almost seven months that we have been navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in our parishes. Sustaining parish family and community relationships, while maintaining safe worship spaces has always been our most important priority since the reopening process began.
As such, I want to inform you of some additional guidance, which is listed below:
PENNSYLVANIA’S AMENDED SAFE GATHERING LIMITS
As you may be aware, on Tuesday, October 6, 2020, Governor Wolf released amended guidelines for the size of indoor/outdoor gatherings. These changes will not have a significant impact on the celebration of Mass in our parishes. Throughout the reopening process, I have repeatedly stressed health and safety protocols that are non-negotiable – including maintaining proper six foot social distancing, wearing face masks and proper hand hygiene – over any percentage of occupancy.
As we continue through fall and into winter, we must continue to stress social distancing and mask wearing in our parishes as we work together to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. If your parish is planning to host any other type of event, outside of the celebration of Mass, please make sure to follow the newly established safe gathering limits listed below.
Maximum Occupancy Calculator for indoor events:
|Maximum Occupancy||Allowable Indoor Rate|
|0-2,000 people||20% of Maximum Occupancy|
|2,001 – 10,000 people||15% of Maximum Occupancy|
|Over 10,000 people||10% of Maximum Occupancy up to 3,750 people|
Maximum Occupancy Calculator for outdoor events:
|Maximum Occupancy||Allowable Outdoor Rate|
|0-2,000 people||25% of Maximum Occupancy|
|2,001 – 10,000 people||20% of Maximum Occupancy|
|Over 10,000 people||15% of Maximum Occupancy up to 7,500 people|
DISTRIBUTION OF HOLY COMMUNION
If desired, pastors MAY restore the Communion Rite to its appropriate place within the context of the Mass. Clergy, deacons and any extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion MUST wear face masks for the distribution of Holy Communion and still need to wash their hands/use hand sanitizer prior to, immediately after, and if necessary, during the distribution of Holy Communion if contact is made with the communicant’s hand or tongue.
If a parish restores the Communion Rite to within the Mass, extreme care must STILL be taken to make sure that parishioners leave the church in a socially distant manner and avoid congregating in groups. This modification is being offered to parishes that are prepared to implement it. In no way is an individual parish obligated to make such a modification if they are unprepared to do so.
Priests no longer need to remove their chasuble to distribute Holy Communion.
The COVID-19 restrictions of not offering the Blood of Christ and not sharing the sign of peace using physical contact remain unchanged. All other precautionary measures to protect the health and well-being of parishioners are to remain in place: wearing face masks, proper social distancing, proper sanitization procedures, refraining from the use of Holy Water and refraining from congregational singing.
Last month, I encouraged you to begin utilizing your parish council or another committee to begin thinking about Christmas celebrations. While many of the decisions will need to be made on a parish level, I wanted to inform you of some possibilities that are available to you in your planning.
- The obligation to attend Sunday Mass will remain suspended until further notice.
- With the understanding that many people may want to attend Mass for Christmas, parishes can look to hold Masses in a larger facility, if that is a desired option, including for example, a nearby theater or gymnasium.
- Parishes can certainly use any overflow areas (basements/halls, etc.) available to them to livestream Mass broadcasts. Please make sure to pay particular attention to entrance and exit procedures to avoid large numbers of people congregating.
- Mindful of the responsibility that I have to direct the celebration of the sacred liturgy within the Diocese of Scranton (CIC c. 838 §1), and also mindful of the grave cause that exists in the midst of the current pandemic, I am allowing parishes for Christmas 2020 to celebrate an additional Christmas Eve mass as early as 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 24, 2020. This exception applies for the current year only and is not meant to be repeated without further notification. Furthermore, this provision can only be enacted if the parish maintains the same Christmas Eve mass schedule from previous years. If the pastor or Parish Life Coordinator chooses to invoke this privilege, it is understood that the earlier celebrated mass does not replace a later mass. This privilege is extended solely for the purpose of accommodating a greater number of the Christian faithful and does not qualify as a replacement for a later-scheduled mass.
- For all worship during the Advent and Christmas season, parishes must continue to limit the length of time people are gathered, avoid congregational singing and eliminate multiple use or shared items like printed worship aids or hymnals.
- While some parishes are not currently using a reservation system, I encourage you to plan ahead for crowds and especially for people coming from out-of-town, or who may be unfamiliar with your particular parish plans. Frequent communication with parishioners and the greater community will be essential as December draws closer! Coordinated efforts among neighboring parishes will also help to provide people as many options as possible for participation.
- Many parishes hold concerts, pageants and other events as Christmas approaches. While they are certainly appreciated by our people – I encourage you to think creatively about different ways those events can be held this year, without bringing large groups of people together. Can you hold these events virtually or pre-record them and share them on social media or CTV: Catholic Television? During this pandemic, the creativity and adaptability of our people has shined forward. I encourage you to embrace their ideas and willingness to help celebrate the season in a safe manner.
I thank you for your continued attention to these safety protocols. Please continue to keep safe and well.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
†Joseph C. Bambera
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton