coronavirus

Diocese of Brooklyn Eases Mass Restrictions, Returns to Full Capacity

A woman receives Communion from Father Joseph Dutan during a March 27 Mass at St. Brigid Church in Bushwick. The Diocese of Brooklyn sent a letter to its pastors on May 20 with new COVID-19 guidelines. (Photo: CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

WINDSOR TERRACE — The Diocese of Brooklyn sent a letter to its pastors Thursday that ropes cordoning off pews can be removed, and churches can reopen at full capacity in light of new guidance from the state of New York and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

“It’s a good day,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said. “We’re at full capacity now, though there are still some restrictions for those who aren’t vaccinated, our churches should be able to accommodate people coming back.” 

[Related: With Travel Restrictions Easing, Catholics Eager to Visit Holy Sites]

Under the new diocesan guidelines, masks are still mandatory in church for those who are not vaccinated. However, everyone is encouraged to wear face masks at services. And social distancing is still required for unvaccinated attendees, except for members of their household.

“When we’re giving out instructions, we still want people to wear masks, the sanitary conditions; all of those things we’re continuing as if everything was still in place,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “We’re not giving up our guard, we think it’s very important.” 

The new guidelines will allow the celebration of Mass in the Diocese of Brooklyn to more closely resemble the way it was done before the COVID-19 pandemic. Other changes include: 

  • Hymnals and missalettes can once again be used. 
  • Lectors can read from the main ambo or the pulpit. 
  • Extraordinary Ministers of holy Communion may resume their ministry with proper hand hygiene before and after holy Communion. 
  • Collection baskets may resume as normal. 
  • The Offertory Procession with the gifts of the bread and wine can resume. 
  • Choirs with vaccinated members can operate as normal, while unvaccinated members must maintain social distancing. 
  • Altar servers may resume their ministry with proper hygiene procedures.

There are a few protocols that won’t change. Hand hygiene, in general, is still required, and holy Communion is still to be given in the form of bread only. There are no shared Communion cups, and receiving Communion in the hand is still recommended. 

The changes to the Mass guidelines come four days after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state would adopt CDC guidelines issued last week that eased mask-wearing requirements for fully vaccinated people. The diocese’s letter indicates a combination of those announcements, falling COVID infection rates, and rising numbers of vaccinations led to the decision. 

More than 50 percent of adults in both Brooklyn and Queens have received at least one dose of the vaccine, at 54.7 and 66.6 percent, respectively, according to New York State data updated 11 a.m. Thursday morning. 

As vaccinations rise, the rates of infection in both counties continue to fall. Meanwhile,  the number of COVID-19 related deaths per day has hovered around 10, according to USAFacts, which aggregates data from the CDC and state and local public health agencies. 

Speaking about the new mask guidelines, in particular, Bishop DiMarzio said it’s up to parishioners to be honest about their vaccination status. 

“That’s going to have to be done by the people themselves,” the bishop said. “The unvaccinated should wear masks. We’re not going to segregate them to certain places, but they have to use their common sense.”

The letter also notes that the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass that’s been in effect since the start of the pandemic will be lifted on the weekend Masses of June 5-6. It acknowledges, though, that “those who are ill, or feeling unwell, those who care for the sick and those truly at risk are automatically dispensed from the obligation, as is always the case.” 

To accommodate parishioners that find themselves in compromised circumstances, Bishop DiMarzio said livestreaming of Masses should continue. 

“It’s very important to have that,” he said. “We’ve learned something new again in the pandemic that we could do that, and it’s not that difficult and for the homebound and those that really cannot get out. It’s a great grace that they can see their own parish.”

Those circumstances aside, he looks forward to once again seeing full pews.