Bishop Olson relaxes some coronavirus precautions in new pastoral letter
FORT WORTH — Bishop Michael Olson, in consultation with priests, public health professionals, and civic officials, has reassessed the protocols for the celebration of Mass and parish meetings in light of the decrease in coronavirus cases and the increase in the population vaccinated in the Diocese of Fort Worth.
The guidelines for the celebration of Mass, the celebration of other liturgies, and parish meetings in the 91 parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth are detailed in a pastoral letter dated May 20, 2021, and went into effect May 21 until further notification.
The protocols maintain some precautions issued at the beginning of the pandemic but loosen others.
During Mass and other gatherings, individuals will continue to maintain a three-foot distance between themselves and persons from different households. Masks may be worn but are not mandatory.
The Holy Eucharist may be received in the hands or on the tongue, with ministers of communion using proper sanitation. The distribution of consecrated wine remains suspended.
Hymnals and other shared liturgical books may return to the pews, and choirs may sing, although they must abide by social distancing recommendations.
Pastors may determine for their individual parishes whether to exchange a sign of peace or to fill holy water fonts.
Churches and meeting spaces will be sanitized at the beginning and end of each day they are used.
Bishop Olson encouraged parishes to resume in-person religious education, discipleship groups, and youth groups, provided the faithful maintain social distancing and sanitation procedures. Overnight retreats and outdoor parish festivals may resume, contingent upon specific approval from the diocese.
Masks will also be optional in Catholic schools beginning on June 1, 2021.
In his letter preceding the guidelines, Bishop Olson said that adapting the protocols of the celebration of Mass during the pandemic expresses “our Christian responsibility to maintain our concern for others, especially those most vulnerable, so that we attend Mass safely, offer sound religious education, and contribute to the common good of our parishes and the larger community of our towns, counties, and state.”
He encouraged vaccination against COVID-19 for those who are eligible.
Since reopening Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth for the celebration of public Masses beginning May 2-3, 2020, Bishop Olson and the diocese have periodically adjusted the protocols for the safe celebration of Mass, most recently on April 26, 2021.
With the year-long pandemic waning in the diocese, the bishop concluded his letter by reflecting, “It is a time for us to pray for gratitude for what we have learned during this past year as the Church and as particular parishes that compose our local church of the Diocese of Fort Worth. We have learned how central the celebration of the Eucharist is to our lives and how we suffer if we are unable to attend. We have been reminded that we are human beings composed of body and soul as an integrated whole. We have learned that our primary responsibilities of discipleship begin with prayer and service to the ill, the mournful, the elderly, and the vulnerable.”