UPDATED: Parish Guidelines for Public Masses

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: Sin, suicide and the perfect mercy of God

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I love my hair stylist. 

She’s a devoted Christian. So, when I see her, we tend to have much deeper discussions than the usual gossipy hair stylist sessions. And, because it’s a small shop, the discussions often branch out to the other people within earshot, waiting for their appointments or waiting for their color to process. Because she tends to attract a smart and faithful clientele, the discussion is always interesting. 

Yesterday, at my bimonthly appointment, we somehow got onto the topic of suicide — specifically, the insidious way that it spreads among teenagers. One suicide often leads to another, which leads to another. I made the comment “It is demonic.” 

At that point, a woman in the waiting area chimed in. “I disagree. I’m Catholic. It used to be a mortal sin, but they changed it. It’s not any more. It’s mental illness.” 

If a nice Catholic lady at my hair salon could be confused about this, I figured perhaps some of you out there may be as well. Which made me think perhaps it’s time for a little review on the nature of sin — both in general, and specifically as it applies to suicide. 

First, sin in general. The fundamental point here is that the Catholic Church has no power to decide what is a sin and what isn’t. It’s not like there’s a committee that meets periodically to review the list of sins, and decide if any need to be promoted from venial to mortal, or demoted from mortal to venial, or dropped from the list entirely. 

Sins are sins because they are outside of God’s will. And they are outside of God’s will because they have the potential to do tremendous damage to people created in His image and likeness, whom He loves. We know they are sins because it was revealed to us in Scripture, or it has been handed down from the time of Christ in sacred tradition. Sometimes the Church must apply these timeless, God-given principles to new situations, to determine the morality of technologies undreamt of in ancient times. 

The Church has the authority to do that because she received it from Christ, her bridegroom. And once she does declare on a subject, we believe it is done through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. So the Church isn’t going to change her mind. Something can’t be a sin, and then suddenly NOT be a sin. 

“But,” you ask. “What about eating meat on Friday? That was a sin, and now it isn’t.” This is an example of a discipline of the Church. Eating meat has never, in itself, been an objectively sinful behavior — on Fridays or any other day. But the Church was calling us, as Jesus calls us, to do penance. And the Church selected that penance as something we could all, as a Church, do together. The sin was never in the ingestion of the meat. It was in disobeying the Church in this matter. This particular discipline has been dropped. But it doesn’t change our obligation to in some way do penance for our sins and the sins of the world. 

Now, on to suicide. It is obvious that something must have changed in the teachings of the Church. Because, in the olden days, a person who committed suicide couldn’t be buried with a Catholic funeral Mass. And now they can. So what gives? 

Here’s the situation. Taking innocent human life is always a grave evil. (I add the “innocent” qualifier to distinguish this discussion from one about self defense, or about the death penalty — which in a sense is self defense. But those are separate discussions.) God is the author of life, and it is He who decides when our lives will end. To usurp that power always has been, and always will be, a grave moral evil. 

But there is an important distinction we must understand. There is the objective gravity of the sin — the nature of it, and the great damage done by it. Then there is the question of the individual’s moral culpability of that sin. In other words: a great evil was done. But is the person who did it liable to judgment for it? Or were there extenuating circumstances that mean that, while the evil was indeed done, the person who did it was somehow functioning in a diminished capacity that reduces or eliminates their moral responsibility? 

For a person to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met. First, the objective act must be gravely sinful. Second and third, the person committing the sin must do so with full knowledge of the sinfulness of the act, and full consent of the will. In the question of suicide, we have learned to much about the psychological condition of a person driven to such a horrible deed. The instinct to self preservation is strong. In order to overcome it, the mental and/or physical suffering is frequently very intense. There may even be, as my friend at the salon mentioned, mental illness involved. All of this can drastically reduce a person’s mental and intellectual capacity to make rational decisions. 

And so, while an objectively horrifying act has occurred, God may very well have tremendous mercy on that person’s soul, given the extreme states of agitation and pain that led up to the act. 

Know that I write all of this as someone who has lost one beloved relative and several friends to suicide. And I am tremendously optimistic in my hope that they are with God. Not because they didn’t do something terrible, or that what they did was somehow justified. But because the God who loves them sees their hearts, and knows that pain and suffering can drive people to acts they wouldn’t possibly consider while in their “right” minds. 

And this is why the Church offers the Rite of Christian Burial to those who die by suicide. Because they need the prayers. And their families need the comfort. And because the Church, too, believes in that the God who embodies perfect justice also embodies perfect mercy. 

And we live in great hope that they are with Him.