The Buffalo Diocese released regulations Thursday to guide pastors and parish administrators when Catholic churches are able to reopen for liturgies.
All church services in New York have been canceled over concerns about the spread of Covid-19.
Altar servers, choirs and the common communion cup are all out, under new temporary guidelines set by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger that apply to 165 parishes in the diocese.
Communion in the form of the host will still be offered, but only in the hand, not placed on the tongue.
All parishioners will be required to wear masks during liturgies that can be removed only when receiving Communion. Priests and eucharistic ministers would be required to wear masks and face shields while handing out Communion, but not gloves.
“The goal of these regulations is to maintain the integrity of the liturgy, while addressing the current needs of the wider community in the interest of public health and safety,” according to a 10-page directive from the diocese’s Office of Worship.
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Other changes include the removal of hymn books from pews and entry ways and the emptying of holy water fonts and stoops of any water. The fonts are to be covered, but not filled with anything else.
The only music would be a solo singer and organ or piano. To limit the spread of respiratory particles, singing by the congregation would not be allowed.
Churches are part of the fourth and final phase of a plan to ease restrictions on a statewide shutdown that has been in place since mid-March. Most parts of the state, including Western New York, recently began the first phase of the reopening, with the return of some construction and manufacturing.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said houses of worship could have gatherings of up to 10 people, beginning on Thursday.
In Western New York, the earliest that churches would be able to open for larger services would be late June or early July, if there are no spikes in new cases of Covid-19 in the region and the phased re-opening goes as scheduled.