New York and Boston Archdioceses: Mask Up at Holiday Season Masses

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said Dec. 9 that the new policy “will provide an important and enhanced level of safety during the upcoming Christmas season Masses."

A family prays during St. Patrick's Cathedral Sunday first public Mass since March 2020 when pandemic stopped large gatherings
A family prays during St. Patrick's Cathedral Sunday first public Mass since March 2020 when pandemic stopped large gatherings (photo: Lev Radin / Shutterstock)

Citing a spike in COVID-19 cases and a “likely increase” in cases during the holiday season, the Archdiocese of Boston is reimplementing its mask mandate from Dec. 18 to Jan. 17, 2022. Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of New York has directed parishioners to follow the statewide mask mandate recently implemented by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The Boston mandate, announced by the archdiocese on Dec. 9, applies to those attending public Masses, weddings, and funerals. The only exceptions are children under the age of 5, who are not required to wear masks, while children under the age of 2 “should not wear masks,” the announcement says.

Mass celebrants, deacons, readers, servers, choir members, and instrumentalists can take off their masks when speaking; however, they are required to cover up when silent, the Boston Archdiocese announcement says.

The policy doesn’t include a requirement for parishioners to socially distance themselves. But there is a requirement for churches to provide a designated area “in which social distancing is respected for those who want to use it.” 

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said Dec. 9 that the new policy “will provide an important and enhanced level of safety during the upcoming Christmas season Masses,” NBC10 Boston reported.

“We continue to encourage all who are eligible to get vaccinated,” O’Malley said. “With care and concern for our parishioners and the wider community we hold it important to make extra efforts to limit the exposure and transmission of this deadly virus.”

The archdiocese’s announcement noted that many people attending Christmas Masses “may not be expecting to need masks.” Therefore, parishes should have masks on hand for people “inasmuch as possible.”

Not everyone was happy with the announcement. A parishioner at St. Theresa of Avila Parish in West Roxbury, Bob Ward, told CNA that he thinks the mask mandates are “ridiculous“ and a “form of control.” 

“Obviously, the virus spreads regardless of wearing a mask,” he added. “Grocery stores, restaurants, and sampling in Costco are all fine, but churches require masks? It’s ridiculous!”

Brian Keaney, a parishioner at St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Dedham, Massachusetts, told CNA that while does not enjoy wearing a mask he understands the intent of the new requirement.

"I am as sick and tired of wearing a mask as anyone,” Keaney said. “My kids are too young to be vaccinated, though, and I’ve been happy to see more people in the pews over the last few weeks as we approach Christmas.”

Keaney added: “I appreciate Cardinal Sean’s pastoral concern for the least among us and am thankful for all the men and women who are working every day to bring an end to this deadly pandemic.”

Parishioners in the Archdiocese of New York will also be required to wear masks while in church, per a new measure implemented by the state’s governor.

Masks must be worn in all indoor public places, the Dec. 10 announcement says, unless businesses or venues implement a vaccine requirement.

New York’s mandate is effective from Dec. 13, 2021 to Jan. 15, 2022, “after which the State will re-evaluate based on current conditions.”

Joe Zwilling, the New York Archdiocese's director of communications, told CNA that the archdiocese has also reminded parishes of other health and safety measures such as enhanced cleaning of churches, no holy water, no sign of peace, and other preventative measures that were already in place.

Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Joseph Cordileone attends the mass and imposition of the Pallium upon the new metropolitan archbishops held by Pope Francis for the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Paul at Vatican Basilica on June 29, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

A New Era?

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has a profound understanding of what the U.S. bishops have called the preeminent issue of our time, and his stand is courageous.