Some Catholic dioceses have begun updating their COVID protocols for public Masses, as federal public health officials have introduced new guidance.
The new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), issued on May 13, states that fully vaccinated people “can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
The guidance specifies that a person is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
On the same day the CDC published its new guidance, the Catholic Conference of Ohio announced that it would lift its general dispensation from the Sunday obligation on the weekend of June 5.
Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, except for grave reasons. Bishops throughout the United States granted general dispensations from the obligation during the pandemic, but some dioceses began lifting the dispensation beginning in August 2020.
People who have significant risk factors or are ill will still be exempt from the obligation to attend Sunday mass, the Ohio Catholic Conference clarified.
“The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days is not something God asks of us out of his own necessity to be worshipped, but rather a gift to the faithful for their spiritual well-being, eternal salvation and formation in our relationship with God and one another,” the state’s bishops wrote in a joint letter.
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati will also lift its own mask mandate at churches as of June 2, the day the state of Ohio’s updated mask guidance goes into effect. Other dioceses in the state indicated they would likewise follow the state’s mask recommendations.
Meanwhile, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced last week that as of May 31 it would no longer require masks for the fully vaccinated, in accordance with Pennsylvania state guidance. The diocese added that to accommodate people who are not yet vaccinated, it would encourage churches to have a section where masks and social distancing are maintained.
Bishop David Zubik said in a statement that “as we have seen at several points throughout this pandemic, health guidance and directives can change rapidly.”
“I continue to express my gratitude for the flexibility of the faithful, and the hard work of our clergy and their parish teams in implementing the changing directives into our parishes,” Bishop Zubik said. “Our loving Lord has seen us through our masks and is here with and for us during this next transition.”
The Diocese of Charlotte, citing state guidance from North Carolina, also announced on May 14 that it would ease its COVID protocols, lifting “mask and social distancing requirements in most circumstances, effective immediately.”
The diocese will also reinstate its general obligation to attend Mass as of Sunday, May 23, with exceptions remaining in place for the ill or vulnerable. The diocese additionally specified that it will not reinstate the Sign of Peace at this time.
In California, however, government officials announced that the state would not follow the new CDC protocols regarding fully vaccinated people until June 15, the target date set by Gov. Gavin Newsom to fully reopen the economy. No Catholic dioceses in the state have announced plans to lift masking requirements before then.
Angelus staff also contributed to this report.