COVID-19 Guidelines Update
We are slowly receiving guidance from the bishop’s office lifting some of the restrictions we have been observing due to COVID-19 for approximately the last year. As the number of new cases decrease in our area and more and more people are receiving vaccines, we will be trying to transition back into some form of “normalcy”. Of course, each parish is able to decide how and when to incorporate these changes based on their particular circumstances and the comfort level of the people.
The first thing to note is that hymnals and missalettes will be permitted to be available beginning on Palm Sunday. The sharing of books, hymnals, and/or religious texts has not been shown to be a significant risk in spreading COVID-19. It is also an optional way of participating in the liturgy, and no one has to use a hymnal or missalette if they are not comfortable doing so.
The bishop’s office has also given permission to begin to reintroduce congregational singing in a limited capacity, focusing first on the more important parts of the liturgy. The General Introduction of the Roman Missal (the text that primarily directs how to celebrate the Mass) instructs us that not every part of the Mass that can be sung needs to be sung at every celebration, and that preference should be given to those parts with greater importance (cf. GIRM 40).
The order of preference begins with the dialogues and acclamations within the Mass (like the Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and the preface dialogue), then are the antiphons and psalms (responsorial psalm), third are things like the Gloria, and lastly are the hymns which are only tangential to the Mass and not integral to it like the others. Congregations are permitted to join in the singing of the first three categories, but we are still asked to leave the singing of hymns to the choir and cantors at this time. It is also important that if anyone in the congregation would like to sing, that they wear a face mask properly while doing so. The vocal projection of singing can increase the potential to spread any contagion, but every study I have seen seems to indicate that singing with a mask makes it no different than speaking with a mask.
There are a few particular guidelines for Holy Week and the celebration of the Triduum. For example: this year the blessing of palms might look slightly different, there will be no foot washing on Holy Thursday, and at the veneration of the cross on Good Friday there should be no touching (or kissing) of the cross, though all are welcome to come forward with masks and bow or genuflect to it.
We are constantly being updated by the bishop’s office and trying to follow those recommendations as close as possible. I imagine we will soon be hearing more about capacity and distancing, and other changes as we continue into spring and summer. It may be a long and slow road, but it is one we can walk together. Like the Way of the Cross, we too can bear our crosses and look forward to the joy and celebration of the Resurrection and new life to come.
Fr. Timothy Gapinski