Dear Brother Priests and Deacons,
It is right to offer prayers of thanksgiving for the progress that has been made in the ongoing fight against the Coronavirus pandemic. Out of a deep concern for the spiritual and physical well-being of the faithful, we have endeavored as clergy to maintain certain protocols in our ministry. These, together with ongoing vaccinations, have brought us to a place where we can now institute a new phase. In consultation with the clergy of the Diocese of Laredo, Bishop Tamayo approves the following protocols which go into effect on Saturday, June 5. These will be monitored to determine if and when new or previous phases need to be instituted. We note the efforts we have made thus far lest we let down our guard now. While the new protocols are less strict, they should by no means be taken lightly.
- The use of masks is required by all those in attendance at Mass. Priests and deacons may remove their mask in the sanctuary, especially when speaking. Lectors may also remove their mask while proclaiming the scriptures but should put it back on before returning to their seat.
- All pews may be opened, allowing for full capacity. Clergy should urge ushers to avoid cramming people into pews, especially if they do not feel comfortable. While no designated distance is imposed, families should be spaced out insofar as this is possible.
- The Dispensation from the Obligation to Attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation remains in place until further notice. Clergy should note to the faithful that this Dispensation will be continually re-evaluated and will be lifted soon provided there is no uptick in cases and hospitalizations.
- Sanitizing of pews and frequently touched surfaces should continue as often as possible. Pastors may determine the frequency of this process according to usage and availability of staff/volunteers.
- Temperature checks, which had been optional but highly recommended in our previous phase, need not be performed.
- Hand sanitizer should still be made available throughout the Church and parish buildings, especially at entries. At this time, holy water fonts should still remain empty.
- Livestreaming of Masses and other ceremonies can be continued at the discretion of the pastor. They should monitor the perceived need for these and consider a reduction in the number of celebrations that are streamed.
- Extra-liturgical gatherings (parish groups) may resume provided that all attendees use facemasks.
- Parishes considering summer programs for minors must first submit their plan to Father Francisco Quiroz, Diocesan Coordinator for Religious Education, who, in consultation with Mr. Gabriel Palacios from the Catholic Mutual Group, will present the plan to the Bishop for consideration of approval.
- Adoration Chapels and Churches/Missions may be open for private prayer. Pastors are reminded that the Blessed Sacrament should never be left unattended during solemn exposition. Amended hours are recommended until the necessary number of committed adorers is reached. Cleaning/sanitizing should be performed as needed.
- Parish fundraisers with food sales may resume with a to-go/takeout option only. No tables should be used to eat in-person.
- Corpus Christi processions are allowed. Pastors should make efforts to provide a safe environment for ministers and the faithful.
- Like those in the congregation, all clergy and lay ministers must use facemasks while serving. While social distancing will no longer be enforced in the sanctuary, spacing out of ministers should be done whenever possible.
- Altar servers, ages 12 and up, are permitted to serve. Vaccination is highly recommended.
- The number of lectors and extraordinary ministers of holy communion needed may be determined by the pastor. He should assure that only those needed to perform these functions are employed.
- As in the case of other ministers, choir members may remove their mask while performing their function (singing). When not singing, they must wear a mask. Due to the nature of their ministry, choir members should keep a prudent distant from one another.
- Entrance and exit processions may be made by the priest and assisting ministers. There is still to be no offertory processions (bringing up the gifts of bread/wine and collection).
- The offering collection may be done during the Mass only if the parish/mission has baskets with long poles so that only the usher has contact with it. Communities that do not have this type of basket must keep the current practice of taking up the collection at the doors of the church (either as people enter or as they exit).
- The Sign of Peace, which had been suspended, is now reinstated but without direct physical contact. The priest or deacon may suggest a bow in the place of a handshake.
- The Rite of Communion is restored to its proper sequence. The faithful are invited to receive communion immediately after the celebrant and return to their pews for the continuation of Mass.
- Clergy and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion must still wear a face mask and make use of hand sanitizer before beginning distribution.
- Holy Communion may be received either on the tongue or the hand at the discretion of the communicant. The distribution of the Precious Blood remains suspended.
- The priest celebrant no longer needs to remove his chasuble for the distribution of holy communion.
- The faithful should be instructed to not gather within the church (in the narthex) after Mass.
Let us continue to remain cautious so as to not lose the progress that has been made. As more of our faithful return to in-person worship, may they find a caring and welcoming Church.
Rev. Jose G. Cadena