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EDITORIAL | Parishes exercise caution, balance and prudence as they re-evaluate new pandemic guidelines

As CDC pandemic guidelines continue to evolve, parishes are exercising prudence as more Catholics return to Mass

The Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation that people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 need not wear masks in most situations came as a welcome reprieve.

With the new guidance, the Archdiocese of St. Louis followed suit, issuing a guidance to parish pastors allowing them to re-examine face-covering requirements and other pandemic mitigation measures.

Some parishes are now permitting vaccinated individuals to attend Masses without masks, while others are keeping precautions in place for the time being. Many parishes are no longer requiring registration to attend Masses, while others are continuing to implement distancing measures. Pastors noted an appreciation that those decisions are up to each parish, and communicated by pastors to their flocks.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all” situation, said Father Dan White, SJ, pastor of St. Francis Xavier “College” Church in St. Louis. “What works in one place is not necessarily going to work in another place.”

Prudence, balance and caution are words commonly being used among pastors as parishes navigate the coming weeks and months. While cases of the virus have sharply dropped, the vaccination rate among adults is slow to rise, with fewer than 40 percent fully vaccinated in St. Louis City and County alone.

There’s a certain excitement among Catholics as we begin to ease into a sense of normalcy. Socialization opportunities after Masses are returning, and as masks come off, we see one another’s facial expressions among the members of the Body of Christ. Other parishes, such as Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in St. Louis, are offering a special welcome to new visitors and those returning to Mass for the first time.

“We have a personal identity back,” said Ed Winkelmann, a member of Assumption Parish in south St. Louis County. His wife Georgene agreed: “You can see a smile on faces.”

In an age in which most everything is instantaneous and “on demand,” we cannot expect a rush back into the way things used to be. We have to recognize that for many, it’s going to take time to return to their personal sense of normalcy. For some, that may mean wearing masks and social distancing, even if they’re fully vaccinated. While others are ready for larger-scale gatherings and close contact with others. We need to show patience and respect for one another as we navigate this.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski for the time being has left in place the general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation, but has said he will be re-evaluating the need for the dispensation in the coming weeks.

Caring for both our physical and spiritual health go hand-in-hand, and the health, safety and overall well-being of the people of the archdiocese is a first priority, Archbishop Rozanski has said.

Pope Francis said that we must “confront COVID with unbounded love.” Archbishop Rozanski said this serves as a “roadmap for lifting each other up at this difficult time.”

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