Catholics are due to return to church this weekend, say the bishops of the NJ. Here’s what changes at mass.


Almost all Catholics, including those not vaccinated, are expected to return to in-person Masses this weekend as New Jersey bishops lift their orders that allowed parishioners to skip weekly services during the pandemic.

The heads of the The Archdiocese of Newark and the other four Catholic dioceses in the state – Camden, Trenton, Metuchen and Paterson – are all eliminating their special COVID-19 exemptions starting Saturday. This means that all 3.5 million Catholics in the state, except those who are sick or have underlying health issues, should be back on the bench.

Several dioceses are lifting capacity restrictions, social distancing and mask requirements. Some churches also allow people to shake hands during the peace sign, return holy water to baptismal fonts, and place communion plaques on people’s tongues – practices that have been prohibited in most churches since. March 2020.

“We invite the Christian faithful to return to regular participation in the Sunday Eucharist, source and summit of our Catholic faith,” said the five bishops of the state in a statement last month announcing that they were reinstating the obligation to attend mass from the first weekend. in June.

The declaration was also signed by the bishops of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic and the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance, which together number nearly 90 parishes in New Jersey.

Although only 4.3 million people, or about half of the state’s population, were fully vaccinated on Thursday, Catholic bishops are not giving unvaccinated people a free pass to stay in their homes. They also don’t make exceptions for children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccinations.

However, the obligation to attend Mass in person does not apply to anyone who is sick or thinks they might have COVID-19, the bishops said.

“This obligation does not apply to patients; those who have reason to believe that they have recently been exposed to the coronavirus or other serious or contagious disease; those confined to their homes, hospitals or nursing homes; or those with serious underlying health problems, ”the bishop’s statement read.

New Jersey, which has one of the highest percentages of Catholics in the country, is among the latest to lift its waivers to attend mass and ask people to return to services in person.

Some dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Detroit, have told Catholics they should start returning to in-person Masses in March when vaccines start to become widely available. Other dioceses in Texas and Wisconsin lifted the exemption last fall, before anyone was vaccinated.

Many parishes suffered a financial blow during the pandemic, with low attendance and dwindling donations, and struggled to get people back to the benches.

In the Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Timothée Dolan never officially gave Catholics a dispensation to skip masses in person during the pandemic. He has been telling Catholics for weeks, including in radio commercials, that they should be back in church if they go to restaurants, shops and social gatherings.

Under canon law that governs the Catholic Church, parishioners are required to attend Mass in person each week and on church holidays, including Easter and Christmas. In the Catholic Church, he is considered a “Serious sin” to skip mass without a valid reason, such as illness.

It is understandable that some Catholics are torn over whether to return to Masses in person if they are not vaccinated or are still worried about being in the crowd, said Justin Anderson, associate professor and president of moral theology at the Seminary. Immaculate Conception of Seton Hall University.

“The obligation to attend Sunday Mass is an obligation that every Catholic must take seriously. Fortunately, we are not alone here. If anyone has any doubts about their return, then that person should contact them or their pastor, ”Anderson said.

A priest can act as a sounding board, explain the safety protocols in place, and in certain circumstances grant a special waiver for people to skip masses in person despite directions from the bishops.

But those who deliberately skip Sunday mass for no valid health reason or consult their pastor will be in violation of the rules of the Catholic Church, he said.

“In that case, yes, it would be a sin. But if I really care about my spiritual health, at least as much as my physical and mental well-being, then why would I? I hope no one would, ”Anderson said.

Those returning to Mass this weekend will find big changes in some New Jersey parishes.

the Diocese of Trenton – which includes Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties – is eliminating almost all of its COVID-19 restrictions. Mask and social distancing requirements are lifted and churches can return to full capacity.

“Barriers, tape, cords to maintain social distancing can be removed,” the diocese announced. “The disinfection of benches and other furniture after each mass can be interrupted. “

Although those distributing Holy Communion should continue to wear masks, parishioners may choose to re-place communion plaques directly on their tongues in parishes in the Diocese of Trenton, officials said.

“Receiving Holy Communion in the hand continues to be strongly encouraged, although Holy Communion can also be received on the tongue,” the diocese said.

The distribution of communion wine in a shared chalice is still prohibited.

the Diocese of Paterson Also allows parishioners to receive communion plaques on the tongue, though they must wait until everyone has completed Communion or after Mass, at the priest’s discretion, officials said.

However, the rules will not be the same in all Catholic churches across the state. The bishop of each diocese will decide when to lift COVID-19 restrictions, how to handle communion and when to revert to pre-pandemic church practices, church officials said.

The new rules also don’t apply to Catholic schools, which continue to operate with many of the same masking and social distancing rules as New Jersey public schools.

the Archdiocese of Newark, which includes Essex, Bergen, Hudson and Union counties, also lifted mask restrictions for fully vaccinated people and eliminated all social distancing and capacity restrictions during masses starting on Saturday . But officials leave the details to local pastors and administrators, who can impose stricter rules if they see fit.

“This can include wearing masks, social distancing and connecting to mass or activities,” say the new rules of the Archdiocese of Newark.

Unlike the Diocese of Trenton, the Archdiocese of Newark still prohibits holy water in baptismal fonts and the distribution of communion waffles directly into people’s mouths. The Archdiocese still demands that people do not shake hands or touch each other during the peace sign and churches should always disinfect their spaces after all Masses and events.

Music can also return to masses, the Archdiocese of Newark said. Choirs will not be required to wear masks or social distancing, musical instruments can once again be used and shared hymns will return to the benches.

“It should still be noted that even with precautions in place, it is still possible to contract COVID-19 at church. All liturgical ministers should be aware that when parishioners return to Mass, some experience fear and anxiety, ”said the directive from the Archdiocese of Newark.

In the Diocese of Camden – which includes Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties – most restrictions are lifted. But church officials acknowledged that not everyone was ready to return to the type of crowded church services they had before the pandemic.

“It is recommended that a section of benches be designated for those who prefer to keep a greater distance,” the Diocese of Camden told its churches.

The Diocese of Metuchen, which is also lifting its social distancing and mask rules, has also called for pews to be reserved in its churches for people who are not ready to give up social distancing, officials said.

For those who are unable or unwilling to attend in person, most Catholic churches will continue to broadcast Masses live on their websites or social networks, a practice that began in most parishes when the state prohibits large gatherings in spring 2020.

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Kelly Heyboer can be reached at [email protected].

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