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Social distancing and other COVID restrictions lifted at diocesan churches

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Effective May 28, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge has given permission for parishes to remove most of the pandemic restrictions including social distancing. The May 25 announcement comes after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued new guidelines that go into effect the same day. 

“By God's grace, we are nearing the end of this pandemic as the number of new cases in Virginia is continuing to rapidly decline and more people are receiving the vaccine each day,” the diocese said on its website in an announcement that included a guide to Mass for the lay faithful.

Going forward, all parishes are encouraged to return to the pre-COVID schedules for Masses, adoration and access to the parish. There is no occupancy limit on Mass attendance, no social distancing and no required disinfecting or cleaning between Masses. During the liturgy, there can be full choirs, holy water, a procession, an offertory collection and the sign of peace between members of the same household. As before, only the precious Body will be offered during Communion. 

Fully vaccinated individuals do not need to wear a face mask in church. Unvaccinated individuals are encouraged to continue wearing a face mask, though priests will not ask parishioners about their vaccination status or stop unmasked people from entering the church. 

The dispensation from attending Mass each Sunday remains in place. Diocesan schools will continue to operate on a separate set of guidelines, in accordance with state regulations, such as required mask wearing. 

All public Masses in the diocese were suspended by Bishop Burbidge March 16, 2020 to slow the spread of the coronavirus. By July 1, all parishes were able to resume Mass with limitations, including capacity restrictions, social distancing and face masks. Many parishes began livestreaming Masses to parishioners' homes and sometimes overflow rooms at the parish. Before Holy Week of this year, more restrictions were lifted. Missalettes and hymnals returned to pews and small choirs were able to sing. 

“Bishop Burbidge is grateful for your prayers during these challenging times,” the diocesan announcement concluded. “Through the intercession of Mary Our Mother and Saint Joseph, may Our Lord continue to bless this great Diocese.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021