Los Angeles Archdiocese to drop mask, social distancing requirements for vaccinated parishioners

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LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 17: A parishioner receives ashes sprinkled on her head from Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez on Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. Archbishop of Los Angeles Jose Gomez presided over the service. The coronavirus pandemic will force a change in the distribution of ashes for Ash Wednesday at Roman Catholic churches. Ashes will be sprinkled on the heads of parishioners. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
Archbishop José Gomez, pictured on Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Feb. 17 in Los Angeles, is asking healthy parishioners to return to the church for indoor services beginning next week. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles has issued new instructions to its more than 300 parishes to host full indoor masses without restrictions for vaccinated parishioners, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, beginning Saturday and June 20.

Archbishop José Gomez sent out a letter over the weekend acknowledging “the significant progress in our fight against the pandemic” and established next weekend as homecoming dates for area Catholics.

“I encourage the Catholic faithful of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to return to in-person Sunday Mass and the celebration of the Sacraments, especially for those who are in good health,” Gomez wrote.

Beyond encouragement, Gomez also noted that as of next Saturday he would end dispensation from obligation to attend weekly Mass and services on holy days. Last year, Gomez allowed for the relaxing of mandatory churchgoing due to the pandemic.

Gomez did, however, extend dispensation for Catholics who are ill from or vulnerable to COVID-19.

The new guidelines apply to the archdiocese’s 288 parishes, 30 missions and chapels and 16 Eastern Rite Catholic churches in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. The Los Angeles Archdiocese estimates about 4.35 million Catholics live within its boundaries.

Changes include the hosting of all liturgical events — weekday and Sunday masses, first communions, weddings and other services — to be held indoors with minimal restrictions.

Masks will no longer be required for fully vaccinated individuals for all services. Those who are not vaccinated must wear masks indoors. According to the guidelines, however, parishes will not be allowed to check who is vaccinated.

Church employees and volunteers will be required to continue to wear masks and keep social distance.

Familiar items such as collection baskets, bibles, hymnals and other aids will return to the pews, and singing is now encouraged.

“We can look forward to better days in which we can actively live our faith as the body of Christ in our parish communities,” Gomez wrote.

The guidelines are in step with standards adopted by the state for a general re-opening to take place Tuesday.

Some churches were already hosting masses indoors with mask and social distancing requirements, while others were more cautious.

Father Matthew Wheeler, 33, an associate pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in San Gabriel, said his parish has been planning to open for indoor Mass next weekend for weeks.

Nonetheless, he expects big changes as the church of roughly 3,200 families has been conducting outdoor-only services, which have also been live-streamed, since last spring.

“I welcome these guidelines but I do want to be very attentive, communicate with parishioners and calm any uncertainties they have that we’re doing everything that is asked of us from a safety perspective,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive since St. Anthony’s announced that masses would return inside the church.

“People would applaud,” Wheeler said. “A lot of people are looking forward to going back to church and have expressed their joy. They’ve missed church and being together with their family.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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