Face coverings are making a comeback for parishes within the Archdiocese of Boston for the holidays.
“I will definitely feel safer coming to church knowing people are wearing masks,” said churchgoer Moran Brister of South Boston. “In fact I might not go otherwise.”
The Archdiocese announced Thursday that masks will be required for a one-month period before and after Christmas and the New Year season.
“Quite extraordinarily we’re seeing yet another spike and we assume it’s because of both cold weather and the convergence of holidays and people congregating close together inside where there’s not a lot of ventilation,” said MC Sullivan, chief health care ethicist for the archdiocese.
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Sullivan, who is also a nurse and has led the church’s pandemic response, says some parishioners may decide to stay home if they have to wear a mask for in-person services, but it works the other way as well.
“We also hear about people who have been staying away because there aren’t masks in place,” said Sullivan.
Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is traveling to Rome, commented on the mask mandate Thursday night, noting it is being implemented as an important safety measure with COVID cases on the rise.
"During the past two years the people we serve have greatly benefited from our priests, laity and parishioners holding safety as a priority. With recognition of recent increases of COVID we believe this policy will provide an important and enhanced level of safety during the upcoming Christmas season Masses," O'Malley said in a statement. "We continue to encourage all who are eligible to get vaccinated. With care and concern for our parishioners and the wider community we hold it important to make extra efforts to limit the exposure and transmission of this deadly virus."
The new mask mandate will be in place anywhere mass is celebrated, and for all events including weddings and funerals.
Masks can be removed only when speaking. The mandate states that children under the age of five are not required to wear masks, and children under the age of two "should not wear masks."
“I think personally it’s a personal choice,” said churchgoer Veronica Marcos who lives in the South End. “But I understand it’s the holidays, a lot people will be going, maybe not everyone has been vaccinated, not everyone has the booster shot, so maybe for the time being it would be a safer idea to have the mask, go in, do the Eucharist, put your mask back on.”
Marcos says she’ll celebrate Christmas mass online because her parents are older, although it’s not quite the same.
“The whole point of being in church is connecting with your family, with God, and with everyone around you when you do the prayers but nowadays it would be a very bizarre feeling to put your hand out and be holding hands with a stranger,” said Marcos.
COVID-19 in Mass.
According to the mandate, parishes should have masks available for people as much as possible, given that some people attending -- particularly on Christmas -- may not be expecting to need masks.
Additionally, the mandate says that all churches must continue to provide a designated area in which social distancing is respected for those who want to use it.
The new mask mandate will start the weekend of Dec. 18 and is scheduled to be in place until Jan. 17 -- although it could get extended depending on the COVID situation at the time.
COVID cases have been surging across the state in recent weeks. Massachusetts health officials reported another 5,472 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Thursday -- the most in one day since mid-January.
The previous single-day high for newly confirmed COVID cases was on Jan. 16, as last winter's surge was receding, state data shows.