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Notes on COVID-19 and the Liturgy
The implementation of sensible measures based on the local parish/family and surrounding community may be made at the discretion of the pastoral leadership.
While there is no requirement for masks to be worn at Mass (even by those distributing Communion), prudent decisions should be made by priests, deacons, and other ministers who are experiencing symptoms, not feeling well, have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19. (Please follow local health guidelines or contact the Office of Worship for clarification.)
Parishes are encouraged to reinstitute Communion under both kinds. This may necessitate the recruitment of new Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, and the Office of Worship is happy to work with those in your area to establish training sessions to increase the numbers of ministers. Applications may now be submitted in advance and training dates and locations will be determined based on the greatest need.
February 9, 2022
Diocesan Mask Mandate for Worship Lifted
On February 9, 2022, New York State announced its mask mandate would be eliminated February 10, 2022 for many indoor settings.
Masks Optional for Worship
At this time, masks are now optional for all participants in liturgies held in Catholic churches and worship spaces located in the Diocese of Buffalo based on prevailing guidance from health ofﬁcials and/or an individual’s doctor or other medical professional.
Masks may continue to be worn at the discretion of the individual. Out of pastoral concern, the safety of others should always be considered when making this choice.
Ministers of the Eucharist should continue to wear masks when distributing Communion for the protection of the vulnerable and those who may not be able to be vaccinated.
As a reminder, parishes in the diocese and afﬁliated ministries and groups are not authorized to screen for vaccinations.
Good hygiene, cleaning/disinfection of facilities, and prudent precautions still contribute to the common good and overall well-being of our communities.
Holy Water Fonts/Stoups
Holy Water may be reintroduced in fonts and stoups at the discretion of the parish. The water in the fonts should be changed regularly.
Visits to the Sick in Hospitals/Medical Facilities
If you are going to visit a parishioner or loved one in a hospital, nursing home, or other similar setting, be sure to ﬁrst check the policies of an individual location, as mask mandates may still be in place.
Faith Formation Programs
Faith Formation programs and other parish gatherings can follow their own local guidelines for masks.
Catholic Schools in the Diocese
The Diocese of Buffalo recommends that the Catholic schools in the diocese continue to follow the governor’s mask mandate as one part of our COVID mitigation plan which also includes improved ventilation, increased social distancing, and improved sanitation efforts.
When the mask mandate ends, the Diocese is recommending that each school make its own decision regarding masks (at certain times or in certain places, for example, or completely optional).
The Diocesan Department of Catholic Education will continue to monitor developments in concert with the other New York State Catholic superintendents and will provide guidance when the mask rules become optional.
December 10, 2021
Mask Mandate Reinstated for All Counties
On December 10, 2021, New York State announced a mask mandate for all indoor venues effective December 13, 2021 which was to be reviewed January 15, 2022.
PLEASE NOTE: This guidance has been extended, in accordance with New York State’s extension of the mask mandate to at least February 1, 2022.
At this time, masks are mandated for all participants in liturgies held in Catholic churches and worship spaces located in the Diocese of Buffalo regardless of vaccination status. Parishes in the diocese are not authorized to screen for vaccinations, and so this mandate will apply to all who enter our worship spaces.
As in the past, the only exception given to this will be for clergy and other liturgical ministers when they are fulfilling a significant speaking role. (They should maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others during these limited occasions.)
This guidance will be revisited as the state reviews its policy or if subsequent directives are issued by the diocese.
November 23, 2021
Guidance for Parishes in Erie County
Erie County Phase Approach (Please review regardless of your county)
On November 22, 2021, Erie County announced a four-phase approach to mitigate the recent surge of cases, which place Erie County in the highest in New York State in terms of a seven-day infection rate and cases per 100,000 people.
Mask Mandate — Erie County Only
At this time, masks are mandated for all participants in liturgies held in Catholic churches and worship spaces located in Erie County and at parishes with at least one worship site in Erie County. As in the past, the only exception given to this will be for clergy and other liturgical ministers when they are fulfilling a significant speaking role. (They should maintain at least six feet of physical distance from others during these limited occasions.)
Parishes Outside Erie County
For now, Pastors/Administrators and staff of parishes outside of Erie County should be attentive to the current local regulations for their area and implement mask mandates if their counties issue similar guidance.
If a parish has multiple worship sites, especially if they are in differing counties, the county’s regulations that are more stringent should be implemented so as to err on the side of caution.
September 22, 2021
Additional Guidance for Parishes
COVID-19 is now “a highly contagious communicable disease that presents a serious risk of harm to the public health” under New York State’s HERO Act. The CDC has also indicated that New York State’s rate of transmission is “high.”
Participation at in-person Masses and other parish events should not be contingent on vaccination status. (Please refer to the Bishop’s letter for information regarding religious exemptions in other settings.)
Masks are now mandated for all participants in the liturgy, especially when in close proximity to those of other households (for entry, exit, and when receiving Holy Communion). When seated, participants may “relax their mask” if they feel comfortable to do so. Reduction of capacity/seating to introduce more space is at the discretion of the parish.
Eucharistic Ministers & Altar Ministry
As before, masks are required for those distributing the Eucharist. Eucharistic Ministers should limit in-home visits to close family. Anyone in the sanctuary should limit close exposure and all should practice good hygiene. For example, instead of having a server hold their missal, presiders should consider holding it or placing it on a stand. If a deacon is present, there should be distance between him and the celebrant.
Holy Water Fonts & Shared Materials
Based on current guidance from New York State (June 9, 2021), baptismal fonts and holy water stoups should remain empty; hymnals and shared, reusable texts should still be absent from pews.
Basic Hygiene, Cleaning, and Disinfection
If a person does not feel well, has a temperature greater than or equal to 100°, or is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they should stay home and seek medical attention. When present in church, all participants should:
- Exercise coughing/sneezing etiquette;
- Limit what they touch;
- Limit personal contact such as hugging and hand shaking
- Wash hands properly and often.
After each liturgy, worship spaces should continue to be disinfected, especially high-risk areas or frequently touched surfaces.
Consider any music, congregational singing, or chanting as appropriate to your setting, based on vaccination rates, risk tolerance, and vulnerability of your community members. Activities such as congregational singing involve a risk of COVID-19 transmission, assuming a mixed population of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Overall, singing should still be limited.
- Physical distancing between individual singers and musicians, and also between ensembles and congregants is essential.
- When possible, reduce the number of singers in ensembles.
- Support singers with microphones, as a recent National Institutes of Health study showed that breathing, speaking, and singing at a moderate volume produce an equivalent amount of aerosol droplets.
- Instruments that have a potential to release droplets into the air (woodwind, brass, etc.) should not be used.
- Good ventilation is key.
May 22, 2021
Announcement Regarding Mass Obligation
Masks are now optional for all participants in the liturgy. At this time, masks are now optional for all participants in liturgies held in Catholic churches and worship spaces located in the Diocese of Buffalo based on prevailing guidance from health ofﬁcials and/or an individual’s doctor or other medical professional.
At the discretion of parish leadership, reservations, pew restrictions, and other measures to limit capacity may be relaxed. However, individuals from different households should still be encouraged to maintain reasonable separation.
Parishes may continue to livestream their Masses to help nourish the souls of Catholics who cannot be present for Mass. It is suggested, however, that regular scheduled Sunday Masses to be limited to one Mass per language a week.
The general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation expired on June 6, 2021
No. Anyone who is frail or at risk due to advanced age or medical conditions is always excused from this obligation, and we encouraged you to use your prudential judgement throughout this pandemic to determine if it was unsafe for you to attend Mass. However, for those who are health and not at great risk, the presumption of the faithful should be that, unless they are at an enhanced risk, sick, or caring for others who are at risk or sick, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass now resumes.
U.S. Bishop Chairmen for Doctrine and for Pro-Life Address the Use of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine
The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines.