UPDATED: Parish Guidelines for Public Masses

Archdiocese of Denver
UPDATED NOVEMBER 24, 2020

As the Archdiocese of Denver continues to work to balance protecting the health and safety of our communities with ministering to the spiritual needs of our faithful, we have issued guidelines for parishes for celebrating public Masses during this current public health pandemic.

IMPORTANT: The dispensation from the Sunday and Holy Day obligation remains.

The Archdiocese has worked with health experts, elected officials, and our priests, deacons and parish staffs to develop these protocols.

How the guidelines are implemented will vary parish to parish depending on parish size, available facilities, and county-specific health orders. Please learn how a parish is operating during this time before going to a public Mass.

Key Updates:

  • Catholics who are healthy should be examining the risk factors in their lives and discerning if they have valid reasons to stay home from Sunday Mass. If not, they should be attending a Sunday or daily Mass  with respect to their parish’s scheduling protocols. (See ‘Who should go to a public Mass?’ section below, and Read: Dispensations: An Excuse to Skip Mass?)
  • General attendance guidelines for Masses have been set by the Archdiocese, but actual attendance limits will be set by each parish with respect to local restrictions and ensuring proper social distancing can still be maintained between families.
  • A separate line for distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue is permitted, but please adhere to the protocols put in place by the parish.

The current guidelines are effective October 1, 2020. Below is an updated Q&A for parishioners.

The dispensation from the Sunday and Holy Day obligation is still in effect. Further details and guidance will be provided before that changes, but Catholics should be doing an examination of their consciences to discern if they have serious reasons to continue staying home from Sunday Mass. If not, they should be resuming more regular Sunday attendance, space permitting at their parish.

Questions for discernment:

  • Do I have any health risk factors, or are there people who I live with or care for who have increased risk factors, that create a legitimate reason for me to not attend public Masses? Or, have I been using the dispensation simply as an excuse to stay home?
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that individuals can be “excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants).” (CCC 2181) Has the pandemic created a serious reason for me that I should continue to stay home from Mass?
  • Is my willingness to go to Mass similar to my willingness to enter into other public spaces? Have I have resumed other activities, but not attending Mass?

IMPORTANT: People who are sick, symptomatic, or have recently been exposed to the coronavirus should stay home as it is an act of Christian charity to safeguard the health of others.

Attendance at Masses will still have restrictions to ensure proper social distancing between families. Capacity for services will be determined by local regulations and by the number of people and households who can be safely distanced from each other in any space.

Each parish will determine what scheduling and attendance procedures are necessary, so it is important that you stay connected to your parish via the parish website, email, Flocknote, social media, etc.

Catholics who aren’t able to go to Mass should continue to keep the Sabbath holy with intentional time in prayer including engagement in the readings for the day, which may be enhanced through watching a pre-recorded or livestreamed Mass and making a spiritual communion.

What

There are still some TEMPORARY liturgical changes including no hand holding, physically exchanging a sign of peace, or use of holy water. A solo cantor or choir of no more than four people can be used, but congregational singing should be limited.

The distribution of the Precious Blood is still suspended, but distributing Holy Communion on the tongue is allowed if it is in one separate line and happens after everyone else has received. Please follow the instructions of your pastor for lining up and receiving in a safe manner.

MASKS: Out of compliance, caution, and charity for one another, the faithful should continue to follow the mask-mandate for their area during public Masses. For the priest and deacon, it seems prudent to wear a mask for the procession, during the distribution of communion, the recession, and when greeting people after Mass.

Where

Archbishop Aquila has granted a ‘Dispensation of Place’ for parishes to be able to utilize other spaces for Masses including gymnasiums, parish halls and outdoor spaces. Parishioners are asked to avoid congregating in entry ways and should be mindful of social distancing in narrow hallways, bathroom entrances, etc., especially if multiple spaces are being utilized.

How

Acting with love and charity towards each other, we will continue to take appropriate steps to keep our parishes as safe as possible, and we ask for everyone’s cooperation and understanding as pastors and their staffs navigate this challenging time.

Stay connected with your parish to learn their specific policies and protocols for attending Mass and remember that there will be differences from parish to parish.

Let’s keep our trust in the Lord, to see this through until we can gather again in full.

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!