Mask Mandate Takes Effect for Boston Catholic Churches Ahead of Christmas Celebrations

The new mask mandate will be in place anywhere mass is celebrated, and for all events including weddings and funerals

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Parishioners who attend any Catholic church service in Boston are now required to wear masks.

The mandate, which takes effect Sunday, was announced by the Archdiocese of Boston earlier this month as the city grapples with rising COVID cases amid the Christmas season. For now, masks will be required through January 17.

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The mask mandate not only applies to any holiday masses, but also includes any wedding or funeral services.

Mass celebrants, deacons, readers, servers, choir members and instrumentalists do not have to wear a mask when they're speaking.

“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.”

“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.

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 noted that the requirement is 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 mandate, which was already in effect at schools, city hall, the senior center and library, was ordered by the Chelsea Board of Health and will now apply to all other indoor public spaces and private businesses.

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.

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.

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