The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Public Masses with restrictions may resume by May 17

Published: May 5, 2020   

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Bishop Anthony B. Taylor issued a letter to parishioners in the Diocese of Little Rock late May 4 regarding the resumption of public Masses by May 16-17.  All restrictions that were put in place March 1-15 will go back into effect, such as no distribution of the Precious Blood to the congregation. Additional precautions have been added, including wearing masks during Mass, restricting the church capacity to 25 percent of the seating and maintaining at least 6 feet distance between families.

The bishop also provided a six-page list of guidelines and options parishes can consider to allow for as many worshippers is safe to minister at one time.

Public Masses and nonessential gatherings were halted by Bishop Taylor March 16 to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

His letter reads:

“Today Gov. Hutchinson issued guidance regarding the resumption of public worship on a limited basis in Arkansas. While this is welcome news, the Mass brings with it special challenges regarding the distribution of the Eucharist, which requires direct contact with the recipients. In order to benefit from this partial reopening of public worship, I authorize the resumption of the public celebration of the Mass starting the weekend of May 16-17, or earlier if your parish is ready.

  • Parishes must post signage reminding people to stay home if they do not feel well or have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19
  • Most people will still not be able to attend Mass under the following conditions, so my dispensation of everyone from the Sunday Mass obligation remains in effect
  • The number of people admitted to Mass will be limited to 25 percent of the maximum occupancy in order to maintain the required 6 feet physical distancing between family groups or individuals.
  • All participants, including children over 10 years of age, must wear masks or other covering of their mouth and nose. All must use hand sanitizer upon arrival at the church.
  • The priest will maintain 12 feet physical distance from the congregation -- as stipulated by Gov. Hutchinson -- unless he is distributing Communion. He does not wear a mask except when distributing Communion. In parishes where the sacristy is near the sanctuary, the priest enters directly into the sanctuary without an entrance or recessional procession. He does not greet people before or after Mass.
  • No priest, deacon or Communion minister in a risk group will distribute Communion unless there is no alternative. The risk groups that disqualify one from distributing Communion are: age (over 65) and chronic or immune-suppressed conditions at any age, such as diabetes, cancer, cancer survivor, COPD, MS, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic bronchitis, asthma, obesity and heart disease.

“I have prepared a more extensive document listing other requirements with which parishes must comply in order to proceed, plus options pastors might consider in applying these directives to the specific realities of his parish, for instance regarding how to restrict attendance to just 25 percent of the building capacity, which might include having more, shorter Masses, celebrating Sunday Mass every day of the week and the transmission of the Mass via CCTV to other buildings with reception of Communion.

“Please pray that this initial loosening of restrictions may be successful and that conditions will soon allow us to return to ever greater participation in the sacramental life of the Church.”

Restrictions and options for worship

The following are excerpts from Bishop Taylor’s list of restrictions parishioners need to follow as public Masses resume. The complete list can be found here.

Required restrictions

  • No Precious Blood for the congregation; concelebrating priests use intinction except the last priest to receive, who purifies the chalice.
  • No handshake or other sign of peace that involves physical contact. The sign of peace is optional, so the invitation of the faithful to exchange a sign of peace can be omitted if the priest so desires.
  • No Communion on the tongue. These are extraordinary times, and attention to the common good takes precedence over personal preference. The only exception is those who attend the traditional Latin Mass for whom reception on the hands is not an option. If someone insists on receiving the Eucharist on the tongue outside the traditional Latin Mass, they should be told politely that in the interest of public safety and out of consideration for those who will receive after them, they can wait until after Mass and receive Communion on the tongue then.
  • No holding hands at Lord’s Prayer,
  • Distributing Communion will be our greatest challenge because it will be impossible for priests to maintain physical distancing... When it is their turn to receive, communicants should lower their mask briefly, extend their ungloved hands, one on top of the other, receive the host which is “dropped” carefully without touch into their waiting hand, place the host in their mouth and then raise their mask before returning to their place. Communion cannot be distributed with gloves, nor be received by a member of the faithful if they are wearing gloves --the risk of mishaps with the Eucharist is too great. Ungloved sanitized hands will be used.
  • No choirs. For reasons of physical distancing, cantors can still be used but choirs will need to be suspended for the time being.
  • Remove hymn books and all worship aids.... If you do have music, use only familiar songs that people know by heart or project them on the screen or wall. Online worship aids delivered to smartphones is another option, though not without problems. Paper worship aids are to be discouraged and if used, must be discarded after each Mass.
  • No altar servers. The priest will need to do for himself everything that an altar server would normally have done, including handling the Missal himself, using a reading stand or praying the orations from the altar rather than the chair.
  • Suspend all nonessential gatherings  -- no children’s Liturgy of the Word, no RCIA dismissal, no coffee and doughnuts or any other post-Mass social gatherings.
  • Collection baskets either at the entrance to church or on long poles, not passed among the people person-to-person. If on long poles, the ushers wear gloves in addition to the masks that everyone is wearing.
  • Prop open entrance doors or have greeters hold them open to limit contact with door handles.
  • Minimize contact -- no greeting of people before and after Mass
  • No one comes forward for a blessing in lieu of Communion, all are blessed together at the end of Mass.


Safety requirements for all worshippers

  • Masks: All persons age 10 and above who attend must wear face masks or other face coverings except the lectors when reading and the priest, who maintains 12 feet separation from others according to Gov. Hutchinson’s guidance, except to distribute Communion. Priests, deacons and Communion ministers put on masks for distribution of Communion. As previously stated, communicants lower their masks only briefly in order to transfer the Eucharist from their hand to their mouth and then replace the mask immediately.
  • Hand sanitizer: All are administered hand sanitizer upon arrival at the church and those distributing Communion use hand sanitizer before and after distributing Communion, but otherwise frequent and obvious use of hand sanitizer during Mass is to be discouraged. A parish may ask people to bring hand sanitizer from home if it is difficult for the parish to provide.
  • Disinfectant wipes should be provided in the pews, possibly in the empty hymn book racks, and the worshippers are asked to wipe down their area upon arrival and again when ready to leave the church, discarding the wipe on the way out.
  • Only 6 feet of separation is needed in Masses with congregational singing (with a cantor but no choir) because all except the cantor will be wearing masks. Only the cantor must maintain the 12-foot separation when singing without a mask.
  • The number of people admitted to Mass will conform to restrictions placed by the civil authorities. Ushers must redirect people elsewhere once that limit has been reached.
  • Maintain 6 feet distancing in Communion line except for members of the same family, taped markings on the floor could help maintain this separation.
  • Maintain 6 feet distancing in the exit line as people leave Mass. It might be desirable to dismiss people by rows, pew by pew, starting in the back of the church and working forward, asking people to proceed directly to their cars in order to avoid crowding at the exits.
  • Adoration chapels should meet the requirements of physical distancing and sanitation. All printed prayer materials should be removed, stored away or discarded.

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