Since the publication of the archdiocesan “Faith Forward” Guidelines for returning to public worship, parishes have continued to take appropriate and prudent steps to ensure parishioners’ safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many lessons have been learned along the way, and liturgical practices continue to be refined. What follows is a listing of several “best practices” that archdiocesan parishes have developed and found to be helpful. They are shared here for the benefit of other communities throughout the Archdiocese:
- When greeting the body of the deceased at the beginning of the funeral, this may take place at the church doors, rather than inside the church itself. Family and friends may then gather just outside the church, allowing for the observance of social distancing.
The Order of Christian Funerals says that the greeting of the body “usually” takes place at the entrance of the church (133), so it is also possible to celebrate this rite elsewhere, such as the front of the church near the threshold of the sanctuary. In this case, the family would be “pre-seated” prior to the start of the funeral Mass. However, some of the movements that mirror the baptismal rite are lost when this is done, so it is recommended to take this option only out of necessity (e.g., in times of inclement weather, or when there are no ushers to help the mourners observe social distancing when entering the church and finding their pews).
- Parishes may want to consider limiting the use of incense at the Mass, or not using incense at all. Some recent studies have shown that incense (and smoke) can carry the COVID-19 virus throughout an enclosed space. The body of the deceased could, instead, be sprinkled with holy water during the Final Commendation.
- Many hands often end up touching the pall during the funeral Mass. For this reason, the celebrant may either handle the placing and removal of the pall entirely himself, or he could ask those who will assist to use hand sanitizer immediately before and after touching the pall. The placing of Christian symbols is optional and may be omitted.
- Robust congregational singing is typically not an issue at funerals. Notwithstanding, a cantor should be always placed at least 12 feet away from others when he/she is singing, per the most recent state guidelines.
- Lay lectors may proclaim the readings, but it is recommended that this take place only if the family requests this, bearing in mind that the Lectionary and microphone should be sanitized between speakers. Eulogies, which further lengthen the liturgy, might take place instead in an outdoor venue, such as at the graveside.
- If necessary, the assembly may be dismissed by rows with the help of an usher.
Reception of Holy Communion
Parishes may wish to remind the faithful of the archdiocese’s request that those who will receive Holy Communion do so in the hand at this time, for the health and safety of all. This recommendation comes after consultation with leading health professionals. The reception of Holy Communion on the tongue remains permissible, but since some who are present at Mass may see reception of Communion on the tongue as a greater risk to safety, parishes might ask those who wish to receive on the tongue to kindly wait until the end of the line to present themselves for Communion. No matter the manner of reception, if the minister senses that his/her fingers have made contact with the communicant’s hands or mouth, the minister should pause, place the ciborium on a corporal, and use hand sanitizer before resuming the distribution of Communion.
Providing access to liturgical texts for those present at Mass has proved to be a particular challenge, especially in light of guidance that worship aids and other printed items (e.g., hymnals and missalettes) should be removed from pews. In response, parishes have taken a number of different approaches:
- Some communities create a weekly digital or single-use paper participation aid. The USCCB has granted permission to include the readings in English and the Mass prayers and readings in Spanish in these types of worship aids through the conclusion of the current liturgical year (November 28, 2020). In this case, the texts must be reprinted verbatim and a copyright acknowledgment must be provided. It is anticipated that licenses will be required for print and digital worship aids beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020. It should be noted that the USCCB has not given permission to project the copyrighted texts of the Mass prayers or readings on screens.
- Other parishes encourage families and individuals to bring their own participation aids (e.g., missalettes or Magnificat) to Mass.
- Worshippers may also use a phone or tablet to access the readings in English and Spanish, and these are available for free at USCCB.org.
As indicated in the “Faith Forward” Guidelines, large choirs are not recommended at this time. A cantor and organ (or other accompanying instrument) may be used. As well, a small group of singers may be spaced out very well apart from each other in a choir loft or other area away from the other members of the congregation. Musicians may also wish to purchase special masks designed for singers which keep the fabric away from the lips and mouth so that a vocalist can draw a deep breath easily.
In an effort to discourage more vigorous congregational singing, some parishes have opted to sing antiphons in lieu of hymns during the processions at Mass. When doing so, any of the following options can be taken:
- Simply singing the antiphon (for short processions);
- Alternate singing between the antiphon and psalm verses (at minimum, one); or,
- Alternate singing between the antiphon and psalm verses (at minimum, one), with the last verse being the Glory Be, followed by the antiphon.
In many parishes, the antiphon is sung, followed by the Glory Be, and then concluding with the antiphon. While this is not one of the given choices listed in the liturgical books, this practice is considered permissible for the sake of encouraging sung participation.
There are many different musical settings of the antiphons in English, and the website for the Church Music Association of America offers a comprehensive listing of resources. Of these, Simple English Propers is recognized as a particularly accessible option, and organ accompaniment for these tones is also available. Alternatively, a cantor may sing the antiphon in the Roman Missal to a common tone (e.g., Gregorian, Meinrad, or Chabanel), and the congregation can participate by singing the Glory Be.
As parishes continue to look for ways to strike a careful balance between encouraging sung prayer and observing current health protocols, it should be noted that it is not permitted to use pre-recorded music in the liturgy (USCCB, Sing to the Lord, 93-94). As well, the projection of music or lyrics onto large screens is not generally recommended, as this can become a visual distraction to the liturgical action taking place in the sanctuary.