Masks are now optional for Catholics attending Mass in New Hampshire, and choirs will be returning.
A year after imposing COVID-19 restrictions and procedures, the Diocese of Manchester has removed most of them.
The change, which took effect Sunday, affects all Catholic churches in the state. Only the presentation of the gifts, the exchange of the sign of peace, and the distribution of Holy Communion from the cup will remain suspended, Bishop Peter A. Libasci wrote in a letter read at Masses over the weekend.
The Manchester diocese joined those in Burlington, Vt., Portland, Maine, and several in Massachusetts in lifting restrictions.
Wearing a mask will now be “at the option of the individual,” the letter said. Social-distancing requirements will be at the discretion of the local parishes.
St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester reopened its chapel Monday for 7 a.m. weekday Masses, said the Rev. Jason Jalbert, the cathedral’s rector.
Morning Masses were being celebrated in the main church during the pandemic.
“Because of the restrictions with regard to social distancing, our chapel would have only accommodated maybe 15 people for daily Mass, and we get 40 to 50 people every morning for Mass,” Jalbert said. “But now that the bishop has lifted the restrictions, we no longer are restricted by space, so we were able to return to the chapel.”
Masks had been required since public Masses resumed around Memorial Day weekend last year, he said.
The cathedral will continue to livestream Masses on the weekends, but will no longer livestream weekday Masses.
Jalbert said he expected the changes to come with the declining number of COVID-19 cases in the state and increasing percentage of people vaccinated.
“I think it was a good and appropriate time,” he said.
With the hot summer months beginning, he said celebrating morning Mass in the air-conditioned chapel was very welcomed.
Full music groups will also return in New Hampshire parishes. During the pandemic, restrictions limited music to one instrumentalist and one vocalist.
“Choirs are able to gather and sing for Masses again,” Jalbert said. “We have been given the permission and the freedom to resume Masses as they were previously held before COVID.”
The letter followed an announcement from the bishop a few weeks ago that said masks were no longer required, but “strongly recommended.”
Some people were not wearing masks the last couple of weeks, and not many wore them Sunday, Jalbert said.
The diocese encourages parishioners to wear masks if they desire to do so.
“Those who have not been vaccinated must be mindful of the need to take other safeguards for the care of self and others, as recommended by public health authorities,” Libasci said in the letter. “In any event, let us not shame or admonish other people whatever course of action they decide to take.”
Application of the statement will depend on individual parishes, Jalbert said.
“Some parishes may still want to exercise some cautions, depending on space and the architecture of the church,” he said. “Every community is a little different, and every church building is different.”
Jalbert said the cathedral community is looking forward to some sort of normalcy in coming to Mass.
“We are certainly very happy to open our doors and welcome our parishioners back in a fuller way,” he said.