Individuals who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to wear masks for parish indoor events and gatherings, including Mass, Bishop Donald Kettler said in a May 14 letter to pastors. Those who aren’t vaccinated, however, are strongly encouraged to continue wearing masks indoors for their safety and the safety of others, he added.
The guidance is in line with protocols announced May 13 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gov. Tim Walz subsequently issued an executive order adopting the new guidance for Minnesota. Additional protocol changes in the diocese are set to take effect later this month.
In his letter, Bishop Kettler stressed the importance of people receiving a COVID-19 vaccination when it is available to them to keep the state and diocese on the right track for ending the pandemic.
“I can’t emphasize enough how important this is for keeping everyone healthy,” he said. “Vaccinations are key to making continued progress against the virus and ensuring a safe return to worship and parish life. I agree with Pope Francis who has said that everyone should receive the vaccine, because not receiving it not only puts one’s own life at risk but also the lives of others.”
The Sunday Mass obligation remains suspended, he said.
Catholic schools will continue to follow their safe learning plans and other protocols specific to them, including mask protocols they currently have in place until the end of the school year. This applies to all students and adults, including parents and guests participating in school events and activities, the bishop said.
An executive order from the governor earlier this month removes most of the state’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions by May 28.
In the Diocese of St. Cloud, effective May 28:
- Any remaining capacity and physical-distancing limits will come to an end, including for Mass and other indoor parish events and gatherings.
- Parishes may resume funeral luncheons and wedding receptions as they are able. Food may once again be served at parish events.
- Festivals and similar parish celebrations may resume in their pre-pandemic forms.
A number of liturgical changes became effective earlier on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 23. Beginning on that date, the following were again allowed in churches:
- holy water in stoups and fonts;
- altar servers holding the Roman Missal/Book and assisting with the lavabo (washing of hands);
- hymns for the gathering, preparation of gifts, Communion and recessional;
- passing collection baskets;
- gift procession
- sign of peace
- Communion under both species and on the tongue
In his May 14 letter, Bishop Kettler said he heard from individuals who have health and safety concerns about receiving Communion in the hand from Communion ministers who also are distributing Communion on the tongue, so he is “requesting separate lines for receiving Communion in the hand and on the tongue so that all feel safe in receiving the sacrament.”
In a follow-up letter to pastors May 19, Bishop Kettler said he strongly encourages that only fully vaccinated individuals distribute Holy Communion as the best way to keep people safe, especially those who have not yet been vaccinated. He clarified later that this preference isn’t a mandate. “The final decision regarding how to distribute Communion safely in a particular parish is left to each pastor,” he said.
In the May 19 letter, Bishop Kettler also set diocesan protocols for multi-day camps, multi-day retreats and similar programs in which participants are in close contact for one or more overnights. The bishop said these programs may resume in their pre-pandemic forms; however, he is requiring participants attending these optional/voluntary programs to be fully vaccinated for the time being as a condition of participation and the best way to keep everyone safe.
In a follow-up to pastors, he said he will continue to re-evaluate the situation and make changes to this protocol as warranted. He also stressed that those who attend Mass and other parish events and activities in the diocese are not required to receive a vaccine as a condition of participation.
Also, he added, “those who wish to attend overnight programs sponsored by and in another diocese are allowed to do so as long as they follow the protocols set forth by the diocese where the event is held.”
During this time of COVID-19 protocol transition, the bishop asked parishioners to be sensitive to others who may choose to continue to wear masks, not yet come to Mass, or not participate in some aspects of the liturgy (e.g. handshaking at the sign of peace) because of health conditions or other concerns.
Although restrictions are being removed at the diocesan level, Bishop Kettler said pastors have the authority to retain any existing protocols if they deem them to be in the interest of the health and safety of their parishioners while the pandemic continues to run its course.
Note: This story was updated May 23, 2021.
Photo illustration: CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit