Public Masses in Italy to Resume May 18 — With Conditions

The restrictions include the distribution of Communion wearing masks and disposable gloves.

Mass is offered May 3 at Santuario di Montenero in Livorno, Italy. Public Masses will officially start up again May 18, but some priests in Italy have already resumed Masses with people in attendance.
Mass is offered May 3 at Santuario di Montenero in Livorno, Italy. Public Masses will officially start up again May 18, but some priests in Italy have already resumed Masses with people in attendance. (photo: Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

ROME — The head of the Catholic bishops’ conference of Italy, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, has signed a protocol with the Italian government to resume public Masses from Monday, May 18, but with agreed conditions that include the distribution of Holy Communion wearing masks and disposable gloves.

Cardinal Bassetti said in a statement the new regulations are the fruit of “profound collaboration and synergy” between the government, its technical-scientific committee and the Italian bishops, “where each has carried out its part responsibly.” He reiterated the “Church’s commitment to contribute to overcoming the ongoing crisis.”

It follows the omission of any mention of resumption of liturgical celebrations when the second phase of a relaxation of lockdown rules to prevent contagion of the coronavirus was announced April 26. Italy’s bishops initially reacted angrily to the omission until Pope Francis called a day later for “prudence and obedience to the rules.”

The conditions, set out in a statement from Italy’s Ministry of Interior, include giving “particular attention” to the distribution of Communion, “taking care, among other things, to offer the host without any contact with the hands of the faithful.”

The protocol states that the distribution of the Communion will take place after the celebrant and the minister of Communion “have taken care of the hygiene of their hands and put on disposable gloves.” They must also wear a “mask, taking the utmost care to cover their nose and mouth and maintaining an adequate safe distance.”

The number of concelebrants at Mass is to be “kept to a minimum,” and while an organist is permitted, “at this stage a choir is omitted.”

It also states that suitable protective measures also apply to “celebrations other than the Eucharist,” such as “baptism, marriage, anointing the sick, and funerals.” For baptism and the anointing of the sick, the priest must wear a mask and disposable gloves.

The sacrament of penance is allowed “in spacious and ventilated places, which in turn allow full respect for the measures of separation and the confidentiality required by the sacrament itself.” The priest and the faithful, it adds, “should always wear a mask.” The celebration of confirmation “is postponed.”

The government said in its statement that places of worship need to be “sanitized regularly at the end of each celebration” and regulation of access to churches during liturgical ceremonies will require having volunteers, wearing protective masks and disposable gloves, monitor a maximum number of worshippers at any one time, dependent on the size of the place of worship. Those suffering from flu or respiratory problems will not be admitted.

Each participant in the liturgy must wear a mask and when entering or leaving be no less than 1.5 meters (5 feet) from each other, and while in church, be no less than one meter apart. Doors are to remain open to allow a “safer flow” of people and avoid touching doors and door handles. “Any gathering must be avoided,” the new protocol states, “both in the building and in annexes, such as sacristies and churchyards.”

The protocol states that the exchange of the sign of peace is omitted, and that the offertory is not to take place during the celebrations but in “appropriate containers” that can be placed “at the entrances or in another place deemed suitable.”

In places where these protocols are not suitable, the liturgies can take place outside, the new regulations state. People can be dispensed from obligatory feasts “on grounds of age and health.” Holy water fonts are to be kept empty.

The protocol states that all the essential aspects of these new regulations, which the signatories say are “provisional,” should be posted at the entrance of each church, including the maximum number of participants allowed in relation to the building’s capacity and all the rules of hygiene.

It also encourages use of livestreaming for those who “cannot participate in the Eucharistic celebration.”

The new rules were not well accepted by some. Luigi Casalini, the author of the Italian blog Messainlatino, said the conditions were “unacceptable,” the “worst thing” being the distribution of Holy Communion with disposable gloves.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ (whose Blood, Soul and Divinity are present in the most sacred Host) is treated in the same way as any object,” he protested. “This is unheard of! It would have been enough to have the priest disinfect his fingers (in a basin of alcohol) before distribution.” He pointed out that the “fragments” of the host “now remain attached to the plastic of the glove.”

“We are not going to indulge in this desecration,” he said.

But others were more sanguine. “I think that the virus has put each one of us in a difficult position, placing each individual in possible danger,” said Maestro Aurelio Porfiri, an Italian expert in Church music and editor of the website, Altare Dei. “I am not sure how it would be possible in our parishes — where we already have a shortage of priests — to implement all the precautionary safety measures requested.”

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the security measures in the protocol express the “most suitable contents and methods to ensure that the resumption of liturgical celebrations with the people takes place in the safest way.” He then thanked the Italian bishops for the “moral and material support it is giving to the entire national community in this difficult moment for our country.”