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Mass Guidelines Eased

Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample has issued a new policy of guidance for Massgoers at parishes in the Archdiocese of Portland.  Please check with your parish for specific protocols regarding the easing of restrictions at public Masses and the continued dispensation of  your attendance obligation.  May God bless and protect you.

Read the full statement from Portland Archbishop Alexander K. Sample.

Listen to Mater Dei Radio’s Interview with Todd Cooper, Head of Archdiocesean COVID-19 Response Team

From our media partners at The Catholic Sentinel:

Archbishop Sample lifts mask mandate for fully vaccinated Massgoers

Dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation remains in effect for now

By Katie Scott and Kristen Hannum , Of the Catholic Sentinel
5/14/2021 2:55 PM, Updated: 5/16/2021

Visible smiles and hugs are about to get a lot more common at western Oregon parishes. Masks and social distancing will no longer be required for fully vaccinated Massgoers, said Archbishop Alexander Sample in a May 14 memo.

The archbishop shared his decision the day after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the state immediately would follow the new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on mask requirements. The guidance states that fully vaccinated adults can safely resume indoor and outdoor activities without masks or distancing. This applies for gatherings large and small.

The dramatic shift in policy was based on recent real-world studies from Israel and the United States on people who’ve been vaccinated.

About 60% of eligible Oregonians had received at least their first dose of a vaccine as of mid-May. Fully vaccinated residents still are required to wear masks inside airports, on public transportation and in health care settings, according to the CDC guidance.

The archbishop said pastors will need to set aside space in churches for those who are not fully vaccinated, and those without full vaccination still are required to wear masks and maintain 6 feet of distance between households. Families with unvaccinated children will need to continue to wear masks and observe distance.

“The faithful should be instructed that the eased restrictions will be implemented on the honor system,” said the archbishop. “Those who present themselves without masks to attend church are affirming they are fully vaccinated.”

Parishes should not require any verification to confirm a parishioner is vaccinated, said the archbishop.

He asked pastors and parish staff to keep in mind that some parishioners who are fully vaccinated may want to still wear masks and social distance at church. “They are welcome to do so,” he said.

A person is fully vaccinated two weeks after the second shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and two weeks after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Those who are not fully vaccinated are still to be equally welcomed and encouraged to attend Masses and gatherings,” said the archbishop. “No sense of discrimination should be experienced by those not fully vaccinated.”

He suggested parishes designate one side of the church for those fully vaccinated and the other side for those unvaccinated in order to avoid one group being relegated to the back of the church. Percentage of capacity limits for churches (previously at 50%, per the archbishop’s directive) are no longer in force.

“I am entrusting pastors and pastoral administrators to implement the new policy as best they can, and I encourage them to continue to work with their parish leadership to make the necessary changes and adjustments,” the archbishop said. He also recommended priests and ministers who are fully vaccinated continue to wear masks during distribution of Communion at Mass, but it’s not a requirement.

The archbishop asked parishes to continue to accommodate those with medical concerns that prevent mask-wearing — who are not fully vaccinated — in a separate space such as a cry room or choir loft.

Earlier this week, Brown announced she planned to lift most COVID-19 restrictions when 70% of eligible Oregonians 16 and older had gotten their first vaccination dose. The governor said she believed Oregon could reach 70% in June.

“We’re excited about the governor’s announcement, along with everyone,” said Todd Cooper, director of special ministries for the archbishop.

Cooper said that it’s been the archbishop’s practice to carefully consider announcements from the governor’s office and Oregon Health Authority and then determine what is best for the church.

Cooper predicted that the governor’s announcement would have an impact on the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation. The dispensation first was promulgated March 12, 2020.

Archbishop Sample, while encouraging healthy Catholics to return to Mass, remains concerned about Catholics who are vulnerable, including those who are apprehensive about being vaccinated, those who have health conditions that preclude vaccination, and those who care for the vulnerable. “The archbishop doesn’t want those people to feel compelled to go to church,” said Cooper.

Archbishop Sample, Cooper added, has discussed the dispensation with the priests, who have encouraged him to continue his pastoral approach, that is, encouraging Catholics to return to church without shame for those who stay home. “He’s reminding people, ‘You have this beautiful gift of the Mass and the Eucharist,’ while also reassuring those who cannot attend Mass that they are not compelled to do that,” said Cooper.