On May 26, Bishop Oscar A. Solis issued a memo to all clergy and diocesan personnel that lifts, for most people in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, the dispensation to attend Mass. The obligation to regularly participate in person in the celebration of the Holy Mass has been reinstated and will be effective the weekend of June 5-6 for those who are able to do so.
“While we realize that the pandemic is by no means over, it is important to reignite our faith in God, to celebrate again the Holy Mass, other Sacraments, and liturgical services in a reasonable and safe manner,” the bishop wrote.
Nevertheless, “The dispensation still applies to those who are sick, elderly, homebound, experiencing great difficulties or other serious risks/concerns in coming to the Church,” the bishop wrote. “The dispensation does not relieve the faithful from their sacred duty to keep holy the Sabbath, so all are encouraged to spend time in prayer, thanksgiving, and rest on the Lord’s Day.”
The bishop also encouraged “those who are sick, vulnerable or who care for others with underlying chronic health conditions, as well as those not feeling well” to refrain from going to church and instead participate in livestreamed or televised Mass.
The memo also stated that in-person gatherings of the faithful in Church “may resume with no size limits if the parish mitigates risk of exposure with physical distancing, the use of mask or facial covering and hand sanitizing/washing.”
Each pastor may decide, based on the particular needs of his parish, “to dispense from or make optional the use of facial coverings in the church,” the memo states, adding, “Reasonable physical distancing for seating in the church during Mass and other gatherings is recommended between unrelated groups or those not in the same household.”
Live-streamed Masses for those who are unable to attend in person should continue, the bishop wrote.
The memo comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Governor Spencer Cox issued new guidelines lifting restrictions on the wearing of masks and social distancing for those who have been vaccinated.
In keeping with these new guidelines, “In-person gatherings of the faithful in Church may resume with no size limits if the parish mitigates risk of exposure with physical distancing, the use of mask or facial covering and hand sanitizing/washing,” the bishop wrote in his memo.
Although many liturgical practices may be resumed at the discretion of the pastor, “priests and ministers should wear face coverings and sanitize their hands both before and after the distribution of Holy Communion,” the memo states, and “Holy Communion will continue to be offered in the hand as the preferred practice. Pastors may use their prudent discretion to distribute Holy Communion on the tongue at the communicant’s discretion. Care should be taken by the ministers of Holy Communion to sanitize their hands in case they touched the communicant’s tongue or saliva. A designated station may be identified for those who wish to receive on the tongue after distributing Holy Communion in the hand. Sanitizing after each Communion on the tongue is recommended at the discretion of the pastor. Distribution of the Precious Blood remains suspended during the pandemic time.”
Bishop Solis thanked his brother priests and other Church ministers “for their commitment in providing every possible spiritual outreach to the faithful during the pandemic,” and also thanked “all the people of God for their patience, understanding and support.”
The changes in liturgical practice made during the pandemic “were necessary due to the unprecedented circumstances to protect life and safeguard the wellbeing of our community,” the bishop wrote. “Let us work together, mindful always of the responsibility for ourselves and for the health and safety of others with whom we interact at church, at home and other places. We cannot let our guards down, but instead take all necessary measures to make our churches, parishes, schools, and other places safe places to gather, to worship and to celebrate events as a faith community.”
Liturgical Practices Reinstated
In the May 26 memo, Bishop Solis presented new health and safety directives for the Diocese of Salt Lake City, based on guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and the Utah governor’s office. The following practices are allowed:
• Choirs and altar servers may be reinstated, but in a manner that mitigates risk of spread of the virus.
• Entrance procession of main celebrant and ministers;
• Offering of gifts and the passing of the collection basket by ushers;
• Sign of peace through a gesture of a nod, bow or hand wave;
• Holy water may be restored to fonts at the doors, but should be changed daily, and the area around the fonts that are touched by the faithful should be sanitized frequently;
• Parish bulletins, hymnals and other materials in the pews may be made available using prudential judgement;
• Parishes should provide sanitizing stations in public areas and make masks available to assist in good hygiene and safety;
• Sacraments such as Reconciliation and Baptism ought to continue as usual, using prudential judgment regarding safety precautions;
• Every attempt should be made to visit and anoint the sick at home or in the hospital in a manner that is safe for the visitor, the sick person, and other members of the household/staff;
• Communion visits to the homebound by lay ministers or clergy may resume using prudential judgment and proper mitigation.