(The following is a letter Bishop Michael G. Duca wrote to priests in the Diocese of Baton Rouge regarding Louisiana moving into Phase 3 of Louisiana’s pandemic response.)

This week (Sept. 14) we entered “Phase III” of our social pandemic response.  I have been working to formalize a response to how that will affect our current diocesan guidelines and the prevailing practices in Diocesan parishes. I present these guides to clear up any confusion and to allow some accommodations regarding the practices in all of our parishes during “Phase III.” 

1. Our guidelines for Sunday Mass continue to form the foundational guide for gatherings in the church and DO NOT CHANGE and are to be applied to all Sunday and daily Masses, the celebrations of Sacraments, Funeral Mass, Devotions, Weddings and other prayer services held in the Church.  You may increase your total capacity to 75% but for many this will be impossible with the 6-foot distancing.  Maintaining the 6-foot space will require that we keep the practice of using only every other pew. This increase in capacity percentage may affect the allowance of meetings in larger venues like gyms.  At all gatherings of parishioners on parish grounds masks must be worn at all times and social distancing maintained.

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2. Given that the present guidelines substantially remain the same, I believe we need to begin a return to more normal practices and ceremony as best we can.  To this end I allow the following small accommodations to our guidelines in these particular ways.

A. Sunday Mass:  Begin to restore the Gathering processional of the Mass and the Recessional through the Church.  If comfortable celebrants may also greet the people after Mass outside of the Church in a way that does not create a close congregation of parishioners.  If it can be done safely, add a server or two (with parent’s consent and the wearing of masks) if only for the procession in and out.  Full Choirs are forbidden but two or three singers that can space out and be far from the congregation may be used to enhance the Liturgy.  Little additions that fit the guidance of social distancing and the wearing of masks can begin to feel like progress and be small signs of hope. 

B. Communal celebrations of the Anointing of the Sick can resume as separate ceremonies outside of Mass or as an addition at the end of Mass.  This is really no different than Confirmation or receiving Communion.  A doctor I consulted said that the skin contact with anointing has a low risk of passing the virus.  Anointings can be done with a cotton ball to insure it is done safely.

C. In Marriage ceremonies and Nuptial Masses accommodations can be made to dispense the wearing of mask by the Bride and Groom and the wedding party only.  It is a small risk for the wedding party, Bride and Groom, parents and grandparents to process in without masks as long as the congregation is wearing masks.  You may allow the wedding party, when they maintain social distance, to gather around the Bride and Groom, without a mask.  As long as the Bride and Groom are set apart they can forgo the mask during the whole ceremony.  Celebrants should maintain the required social distance especially at those times where he is not wearing a mask.  While these small changes do not take away the responsibility of the Celebrant to maintain health procedures, these do allow some leeway for the sake of the couple. Many priests are already adopting these practices.  All guests in the pews are still required to wear masks. 

D. As nursing homes allow visits to residents, Communion calls can be made adhering to the guidelines of the institution.

E. Parish fairs and fundraising events that include the gathering of a large number of people are not allowed.  If you have a plan to make this work give me a call and I will consider an exception but do not plan anything until we talk.  Fund raisers that involve selling food have been held and are allowed in parishes by having the food pre-packaged and ready to hand out to parishioners to take home.  Food served as refreshments at gatherings should be individually bottled or canned drinks and individually wrapped items.

F. One item I wish to emphasize is the Eucharistic Chapels were (in the last set of guidelines) and still are allowed to reopen.  Some pastors, I understand, may still have reservations because some chapels are very small or have poor air circulation and so may choose not to reopen at the moment.  If this is the case, I encourage pastors to provide the opportunity to their parishioners for adoration in the Church at some time during each week.  If opening or if opened already, chapels should be set up to reflect social distance of 6 feet and have only marked spaces or limited seating that reflects the full capacity of your chapel.  Masks are to be worn in the Chapel by all when more than one person is present.