Update: We have updated this memo and added to a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document thanks to input from our pastors, catechists and parish staff. We will continue to update the FAQ document as needed. We thank you for your patience and input as we navigate this situation.

Date:         May 18, 2020; updated July 9, 2020
To:             Pastors, parish communicators, men and women religious, chancery staff, school presidents and principals
From:       Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., Archbishop of Atlanta
Re:             Instructions on resumption of in-parish worship and access to parish facilities

Following consultation with the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s College of Consultors, Deans of the 10 Deaneries, and lay professionals, Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., announces the following and conditions regarding in-parish worship and access to parish facilities. What follows is a combination of requirements, suggestions, and best practices. These procedures will be evaluated and amended, from time to time.

As new guidance is issued from the state, the Archbishop will, while being mindful of the recommendations of the CDC and the Georgia Department of Health, consider whether modifications of the protocols for church attendance and parish offices or gatherings might be in order.  As it stands, parishes may have gatherings of up to 25 persons at a meeting or class, provided that the distancing requirements can be met and masks worn.

General Notices

Out of concern for the well-being of all in our communities, everyone is urged to monitor carefully and abide by the directives of federal, state and local authorities, as well as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for persons with health reasons or concerns remains in effect for all in the Archdiocese through Sunday, August 2. Because of this, those wishing to participate in Mass and receive Holy Communion can do so by attending any Mass any day of the week. Some parishes may wish to consider encouraging people to come on weekdays to help manage the number of attendees.

Persons are encouraged to take their temperature before leaving home and to avoid coming to church if the temperature is 99.6 or greater. Taking of temperature at church entrances is allowed, according to the parish’s published or announced procedure. Anyone who is not feeling well should remain at home, out of concern for others. Those who are at risk or concerned that they or their family might become sick should stay at home and view live-streamed or online Masses.

As it is possible, parishes should continue to offer online Masses even as attendance at some Masses becomes available.

Preparation of ushers or similar monitors will be necessary in order to assist the faithful as they come to Masses.

Preparing Churches and Other Buildings

Before returning to regular Masses and visitation, churches are to be deep- cleaned, including carpets, pews, restrooms, water fountains, doorknobs, light switches, microphones, music stands, chairs and other furniture. Use chemicals and disinfectants as directed, and allow for proper drying times. Thoroughly clean surfaces between church uses. More time may be required between Masses in order to permit necessary cleaning. Because of distancing requirements, Masses will likely need to be celebrated in the larger church rather than in a chapel.

Temporarily remove materials from pews and chairs—hymnals, missalettes, bibles, pens, information. Post signs requiring non-contact greetings. Cry rooms and nurseries are to be closed. Holy Water fonts should remain empty, but parishes should allow for Holy Water to be taken to homes. Sanitizer is to be available at church entrances, and, if possible, entrance doors should be propped open.

Minimize entry points into a church for usher placement, one-way direction, and sanitizing. Pews should be taped off and marked to ensure six feet of distance in all directions between household groups or individuals. Seating should take place filling in from the front to the back until the maximum available space has been reached and the usher is able to determine that no more may be seated in church. The use of overflow spaces is encouraged, where the same distancing requirements are in effect as in church.

Masses and Church Gatherings

Where a priest’s health is not impeded, attendance at daily Mass may begin Monday, May 25, on an announced schedule. Churches may also be open for prayer and adoration on an announced schedule. Parishes may use a reservation system or first-come, first-admitted procedure. Outdoor Masses allowing for greater attendance are permitted, and social distancing measures are to be observed outdoors. If people attend outdoor Masses in their cars, they are to get out and stand to receive Holy Communion.

The faithful are required to use face masks, as are ministers of Holy Communion. Priest celebrants are to refrain from using a face mask. Hand sanitizer is to be used by ushers, ministers of Holy Communion, servers, lectors, volunteers, and those who clean the church.

The gifts of bread and wine are to be brought directly from the credence table or placed on the altar without a procession. Unconsecrated hosts should be placed on a corporal away from the center of the altar. There should be no physical contact at the Our Father or the Sign of Peace. One-way aisles for Holy Communion are recommended. For the time being, the Precious Blood will not be offered at Holy Communion and communicants are strongly urged to receive in the hand. Concelebrating priests should receive by intinction if there is a single chalice.

The desired manner of receiving the sacred host at Holy Communion is for the communicant to pull down the mask just before facing the distributor so that the host may easily be placed in the hand or on the tongue and consumed immediately.  This is preferred vs. taking the sacred species in hand and then moving to the side to consume it.

All locations are reminded that the faithful have a choice as to whether to receive the sacred host on the tongue or in the hand.  The Archdiocese has not forbidden receiving on the tongue, although receiving in the hand during the present pandemic is encouraged.  If additional sanitizing is necessary after offering the host either on the tongue or in the hand, provision should be made to do so discreetly.

Rules of social distancing will mean that choirs and musicians will likely be used in smaller numbers. Choir practices are to be avoided because of the risk of transmission and the numbers involved. A cantor and small number of musicians is preferred. Worship aids are not to be used unless they are single-use, for that Mass only. Use of well-known music and electronic visuals are encouraged. Congregational singing is discouraged.

Collections should be taken by use of an usher-held basket or placement of monitored receptacles where congregants may safely place an offering.

Non-liturgical gatherings of more than 25 people on church property are not allowed at present. Faith Formation and Parish Schools of Religion (PSR) will follow the schedule for school re-opening and so should not have in-parish meetings at this time.

Church offices should be sanitized, and staff should work remotely as much as possible. Face masks are recommended. Maintaining electronic communication and telephone contact with parishioners is recommended.

Other Sacraments

Funerals, weddings and baptisms may be celebrated, observing the same physical and hygiene requirements as for Holy Mass.

Drive-through confessions may take place without the use of face masks, allowing for six-feet distancing. Indoor confessions may take place, with the use of face masks. Use of a screen and a larger setting can be beneficial, always assuring the confidentiality of the penitent. As with Masses, those who are not well or have contact with someone who has COVID-19 should not present themselves for confession. At-home confession for a healthy penitent, if necessary, ideally takes place outdoors, with priest wearing a stole and, if indoors, a mask. At- home confession for a sick penitent ideally takes place outdoors, with priest wearing gloves and a stole, sanitizing hands and stole before and afterward.

Anointing of the Sick should be provided as requested, allowing for proper safety procedures to be in place. Some hospitals are allowing even COVID-19- infected patients to be visited. Deans of Deaneries should make provision for the sacrament to be administered if a priest is impeded by reason of his own at-risk health condition. See detailed provisions below for the Anointing of the Sick.

Priests, deacons and lay ministers should not take Holy Communion to homebound or those in care facilities — including the non-COVID-19-infected– at this time in order to protect both populations from potential infection. 

RCIA and Initiation Liturgies

Admission of the Elect and Reception of Candidates (RCIA)

Baptized candidates for full communion can be received at any Mass using the Rite of Reception.  Pastors should either receive the Elect into full membership on August 15, at the Vigil Mass for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, as previously suggested, or see to the sacramental initiation of the Elect as it can be scheduled at, preferably, a special Mass before August 31, 2020.
Archbishop Hartmayer has dispensed the Elect from needing to complete preparatory rites they have missed during the suspension of public liturgies.  The baptismal liturgy from the Easter Vigil is to be used when rescheduling initiation of the Elect, following the rubrics for situations “Outside the Easter Vigil.”  Unless the proper Mass of the day takes precedence, such as solemnities and other instances listed in GIRM 372, this would be done within the Ritual Mass for Baptism. The Lectionary provides readings for “Christian Initiation Apart from the Easter Vigil.”
For joint initiation of Elect and candidates, use the combined rites.  Scheduling these initiations on weekdays is an option so as not to extend the amount of time the faithful must remain in the church for a Sunday Mass during social distancing.  If a scheduled Mass will feature initiations, this should be announced to the parish in advance.

First Holy Communion and Confirmation

Pastors are advised to schedule the celebration of First Holy Communion at their discretion, as it can be arranged in light of the numbers allowed in church and the need for appropriate distancing.

Confirmations that have been postponed or were scheduled to take place before August 31 may be celebrated by the pastor or a priest he designates, without additional delegation from the Archbishop.  Record of those confirmed is to be sent to the Archdiocese.  Confirmations that will take place after September 1 are to be scheduled with one of the bishops celebrating the sacrament.  In either case, large groups of confirmands may need to be divided into groups that can be accommodated with only confirmands, sponsors, and parents in attendance—unless and until distancing is lessened, allowing for greater numbers at each ceremony.

The USCCB released a statement to say that use of an instrument– such as gloves or a cotton swab– to apply the sacred chrism does not affect the validity of the sacrament.

Chrism Mass and Holy Oils

The postponed Chrism Mass, normally celebrated on Holy Thursday or otherwise in Holy Week, will take place this year in conjunction with the Convocation of Priests, September 14-17.  Parishes needing to resupply their holy- oils before then should contact the Cathedral of Christ the King or seek additional supply from a parish in their deanery.

Reporting COVID-19 to the Archdiocese

If a minister, staff member, deacon or priest comes into contact with someone who has an active case of COVID-19, he or she should get tested, go into quarantine and report the exposure to Deacon Dennis Dorner, Chancellor. If the exposure happened during a liturgy, the parish should notify everyone who may have also attended the liturgy. If the priest’s or deacon’s test comes back positive, he should report it to the local health department so they can complete contact tracing.

Please note that people can self-report a positive case, so a pastor or deacon can tell his parish he has COVID-19,  but a pastor or parish should not identify an individual who has a case. The pastor can notify the parish with generic language such as: “A person with a confirmed case attended XX Mass.” Privacy laws prohibit the release of personal health information.

The CDC guidelines say people who have a positive test, but show no symptoms, should self-isolate for 10-days from a positive test and get two consecutive negative tests before they return to the public. Should symptoms develop, the CDC advises a person should be fever-free for three days with continued improvement in other symptoms and have two negative tests before returning to the public.

The CDC quarantine guidelines encourage staying in for 14-days after close contact with someone who had a positive test. People who were exposed should also get tested to be sure they are free of illness.

Some helpful resources for exposure and testing:

Ushers

It is vitally important that ushers or other trained volunteers be prepared to assist those attending Masses. The following guidelines are partly derived from the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana.

Ushers/greeters should be trained prior to utilizing them for assistance at Masses and should not serve at Mass if they have fever (above 99.6), cough, shortness of breath, chills, loss of taste/smell or pre-existing health conditions putting them at risk.

These volunteers are required to wear masks at all times and gloves if they are distributing papers or collecting offerings; are required to maintain social distancing of six feet, to assist parishioners in the use of sanitizer and masks before entering church, and to ensure that the maximum occupancy (given social distancing) is not exceeded.

At Holy Communion, ushers preserve distance of six feet between communicants; allow one person or family out of the pew at a time.

When reaching capacity attendance:

    • If parish does have additional seating capacity in other buildings for live streaming:
      • Have ushers direct overflow to additional space,
      • Assist with maintaining social distancing
      • Utilize same instruction as above in additional location.
    • If parish does not have additional space:
      • Pastorally advise those needing to be turned away:
        • Speak kindly but firmly
        • Apologize for the inconvenience
        • Give them the times and/or locations of other Masses
        • Remind them that they are still dispensed from the Sunday obligation if they cannot physically attend another Mass
        • Advise them that there are still Masses on social media
        • If using a reservation system, ushers might take the names of those turned away and guarantee them entrance at the next available Mass
      • Greeters should acknowledge parishioners by using non-contact greetings and maintaining social distancing.

Anointing of the Sick

(from the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the Thomistic Institute)

Follow local guidelines on the number of people permitted to gather in a space. Remain six feet away except for the act of anointing.

Patient with no COVID-19 symptoms or contact

General

  • Wear face mask, as recommended by public health officials
  • Avoid contact with surfaces
  • Set anointing items at least six feet away from patient on a disinfected surface, including oil stock, cotton swab, a paper bag open and standing up, and hand sanitizer
  • Sanitize hands before and after

Anointing Process

  • Omit the laying on of hands
  • Use cotton swab to anoint. Dip and close the swab in oil, then approach
  • Drop swab in paper sack.
  • Sanitize hands
  • Fold bag closed several times, later burn the bag
  • Sanitize hands again after leaving

Conscious patient with COVID-19

Do not bring a patient to church. Hear their confession if possible, and postpone anointing.

Unconscious patient with COVID-19 in residence in imminent danger of death.

    • Prepare a kit with oil stock, stole, printout of the Rite of Anointing in a Hospital or Institution, hand sanitizer, gloves, surgical mask, cotton swab and paper bag.
    • Don face mask and stole before entering residence
    • Do not bring anything into home except kit – no phones, prayer cards, books.
    • Avoid touching surfaces, face
    • Set up kit outside of patient room.
    • Conduct anointing as described above for patient with no symptoms
    • Re-enter room after discarding cotton swab, recite Lord’s prayer, concluding prayer and blessing.
    • Leave printed copy of Rite in patient room
    • Exit room, remove gloves and sanitize hands
    • Wash oil stock with soap and water, discard oil remaining in stock, wash interior, replenish.
    • If the facility can equip the priest with Personal Protective Equipment, he may be permitted to conduct the whole rite next to the patient, provided his kit is placed outside the room.

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