Archdiocese calls attention to new Minnesota mask mandate

| July 27, 2020 | 0 Comments

In this photo illustration, Hazel Jordan, an employee at Our Lady of Lourdes in Minneapolis, wears a mask while kneeling inside the church. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis July 24 called attention to Gov. Tim Walz’s mask mandate for indoor public places during the coronavirus pandemic. Those visiting Church offices, participating in indoor Masses, engaging in in-person Bible studies should take the mandate into consideration.

The guidance follows Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order July 22 requiring all Minnesotans beginning July 25 to wear a mask in indoor public places. Refusing to do so is a petty misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $100 or less.

The governor’s order came amid rising COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and deadly spikes in several states around the country, including Florida, Texas and California.

In a memo to pastors, other clergy and parish business administrators, Father Tom Margevicius, the archdiocese’s director of worship, said safety protocols in Catholic churches are ultimately within the authority of diocesan bishops, including Archbishop Bernard Hebda. But Catholic tradition teaches that the Church should collaborate with public officials to serve public health and the common good, unless directives are unreasonable, impractical or discriminatory. “The Archdiocese does not regard the Governor’s Executive Order to wear face coverings to be any of these,” Father Margevicius wrote. “Parishes have already instituted strict distancing and cleanliness protocols, and this requirement may be an additional burden. Nonetheless, the Archbishop appreciates encouraging mask use, promoting community health, and not giving scandal to others by not wearing masks.”

Prior to the executive order, Archbishop Hebda, while not mandating the use of face coverings at Mass, had been following the advice of the Minnesota Department of Health for houses of worship and urging people to wear masks. Even though he recognized that the utility of masks was controversial in the scientific and medical communities, the archbishop argued that individuals should consider wearing a mask out of respect for their neighbor, especially those most vulnerable. Many Catholics chose not to follow that advice, offering arguments that at times took a political tone. Others said that faith in God and his providence should be enough to protect people, particularly at Mass.

With the issuance of the executive order mandating the use of face coverings, the situation has changed. While it falls to the diocesan bishop to regulate the liturgy in his own diocese,  Catholic teaching and tradition recognizes the importance of complying with the public safety standards of the community. “Catholics recognize that following the just laws of legitimate authorities is a moral obligation,” Archbishop Hebda said. “Just because we are in a Church-owned facility doesn’t change that. We have our elevators inspected, we follow the directives of the fire marshal in limiting attendance, we need licenses to hold raffles. Where concerns arise is when something interferes with the liturgy or where a law is discriminatory. In the case of face coverings, we already know that we can celebrate the Eucharist according to our rubrics while still meeting the state’s requirements. Indeed, many of our faithful and liturgical ministers have been wearing masks for months. There is no question in this instance, moreover, of the law being discriminatory. It doesn’t apply only to Catholics, and it is not a case of houses of worship being treated differently than other indoor spaces.”

The archbishop noted that “those who are unable to wear face coverings for medical reasons are probably already covered by the exceptions set forth in the executive order. Those who are simply unwilling to wear face coverings would have the option of participating in one of the outdoor Masses being celebrated throughout the archdiocese or else participating virtually.”

Father Margevicius’ memo also reiterates protocols for distribution of Communion, including a requirement that all who distribute the Eucharist — both clergy and extraordinary ministers — wear facial masks and sanitize their hands before and after distributing Communion.

Communion is always to be distributed personally, minister to communicant, the requirements state. “It is not permitted to give Holy Communion in paper cups, plates, tissues, plastic or wax paper sleeves or baggies,” the memo states.

Father Margevicius told The Catholic Spirit that good-faith efforts in some parishes to protect people from the virus have not at times struck the right balance between safety and the need to protect the dignity of the Eucharist and hold to the communal nature of the sacrament.

One parish, he mentioned, was placing the Eucharist inside wax-coated envelopes for people to pick up at a table as they left Mass, in its effort to mitigate spread of the virus. Another had distributed Holy Communion on paper plates. Neither one of those practices is still being followed, Father Margevicius said.


MASKS AT MASS

The following are excerpts from a July 24 memo from the Office of Worship:

  • The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis does not regard Gov. Tim Walz’s July 22 executive order that Minnesotans wear masks in all indoor spaces, including churches (with some exceptions), to be unreasonable, impractical or discriminatory. Archbishop Bernard Hebda “appreciates encouraging mask use, promoting community health, and not giving scandal to others by not wearing masks.”
  • Liturgical ministers such as priest-celebrants, cantors and lectors are “presenters” and as such are not required to wear face coverings when lectoring, singing or celebrating Mass.
  • Face masks should not be worn by children under age 2, instrumentalists playing brass or woodwind instruments, and persons with respiratory conditions for whom wearing a mask poses a greater health risk than not wearing one.
  • The mask also is removed for the reverent reception of holy Communion.
  • A priest, cantor or lector may choose to wear a face covering when ministering (the guidelines of the Minnesota Department of Health encourage the use of face coverings by cantors).

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