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Current Protocols for Parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston

Current Protocols for Parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston

Originally published on January 8, 2021. Updated March 25, 2021.

This document is for parish life. The Catholic Schools Office has a separate set of protocols for schools. In an attempt to keep things as simple as possible, this document deals only with requirements, not with best practices. N.B.  Everywhere that this document refers to the wearing of masks, it should be understood that the mask covers both the mouth and the nose.

For the current phase and capacity information, go to CURRENT PHASE & CAPACITY.

Follow these links for information about Holy Week and the Easter Vigil.

Indoor Masses

The allowed capacity for indoor Masses depends upon the phase of re-opening we are currently in, according to Governor Baker’s COVID-19-related executive orders. To find out the phrase we are currently in, as well as the capacity limitations, please go the Current Phases page.

1.) All people entering the church who are older than five years old must be wearing a mask, and must continue wearing the mask until they leave, unless they have a specific speaking/singing role at the Mass.

  • Children under the age of two should not wear a mask.
  • Children from ages two to five should wear a mask only at the discretion of their parents.
  • If a person has a medical condition that makes it impossible for them to wear a mask, they can be exempted, and they do not need to present any documentation of that condition.
  • If a person refuses to wear a mask and it clearly is not a case as outlined above, the pastor can refuse them entry to the church.

2.) Parishes can use a simplified form of social distancing in church seating:

  • Most parishes can seat people in every other pew, because in most churches, there is very nearly six feet of distance between the back of one pew and the back of another pew with one skipped in the middle.  Within the pew, household members can sit close to one another, but everyone else needs to keep six feet distance from one another.
  • If a pastor feels that this is not a safe practice in his particular church or community, he can space congregants further apart.
  • Nothing in this should be read to mean that we are going from six feet to three feet for distancing.  Six feet of distance is still the norm.

3.) A system must be in place to track the number of people who have come to a Mass, so that the church does not fill beyond safe capacity. A parish may choose to keep a list of people who have attended Mass.

4.) Temperatures of all volunteers must be taken before they volunteer at Mass.

5.) A limited number of lay people can be trained to provide liturgical ministry safely. This includes readers, cantors, instrumentalists, and Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist:

  • When the minister is exercising his or her ministry (the cantor singing, the reader reading) they can remove their mask, but no one should be closer than six feet to them during that time. When they have finished their speaking or singing role, they should put their masks back on.
  • Because it would be difficult for altar servers to exercise their ministry while maintaining a distance of six feet, altar servers are not allowed at this time.

6.) Congregational singing is not allowed, with the exception of Holy Week.

  • During Holy Week, the congregation may sing the various acclamations appropriate to the services (“This is the wood of the Cross…” on Good Friday, “Light of Christ …” at the Easter Vigil). Additionally, starting immediately, Mass parts (but not the responsorial psalm) may be sung by the congregation.  The congregation should, of course, continue to wear their masks during this singing.  This is a first small step in a return to congregational singing; more will follow at a later date.

7.) Holy Communion must be distributed in a way that is safe:

  • The priest and/or extraordinary minister must disinfect his or her hands before distributing Communion.
  • The priest and/or extraordinary minister must wear a mask while distributing Communion.
  • The communicant must wear a mask while receiving Communion. After the minister has moved on to the next person, or after the communicant has stepped aside, they should remove their mask, consume the Host, and put their mask back on before returning to their seats.
  • The norm must be that communion is given in the hands.
    • In the case of a person insisting on receiving on the tongue, if the priest feels comfortable doing so, he can disinfect his hands, give the communicant Holy Communion on the tongue, disinfect his hands again, and continue distributing Communion.
      • This is an exception, and must not be the norm in a parish.
      • Some priests, because of their own health vulnerabilities, may decide that they are not comfortable giving a person Holy Communion on the tongue even as an exception, and their concerns must be respected.
    • Some parishes have developed very different ways of distributing Holy Communion. As long as those methods are safe, reverent, and approved by the regional Bishop or episcopal vicar, they may proceed.

8.) All seating must be disinfected after each Mass.

9.) If it is found that one of the people who attended Mass had Covid at the time they attended:

  • An announcement of that fact should be placed on the parish web site (but not the sick person’s name):
  • If a list has been kept, people on the list should be informed.
  • The local Board of Health must be notified.
  • The Archdiocese of Boston must be notified, either through the regional Bishop or episcopal vicar, or through corona@rcab.org

10.) These protocols apply to all Masses – weekend, daily, Funeral, Nuptial.

Additional Protocols for Inside Masses for Parishes in the Red Zones

  • Temperatures of all people must be taken before they enter the church. Anyone with a temperature of greater than 100.4 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) should not be admitted.
  • Strict lists must be kept of all people attending the Mass.

Changes to the Protocol if the Mass is Outside

Most of the protocols above apply also to outdoor Masses, with the following exceptions.

  • If attendees remain in the cars, they do not need to wear masks while they are in their cars. When the priest or minister comes to give them Communion, they must put on a mask.
  • Taking temperatures outdoors can be unreliable, and therefore temperatures do not need to be taken for outdoor Masses.

Faith Formation

As parishes are closing out their faith formation year and are adapting to the new policies, we are no longer requiring approved safety plans. We strongly encourage a parish to have a local safety plan for faith formation, and we are happy to help. The address covidfaithformation@rcab.org is still active, and is still a good way to get faith formation questions answered or to raise concerns.

Temperature checks are no longer required in parish faith formation programs. The only remaining situation for requiring temperature checks is for Masses in parishes that are in the red zone.

We know that many of you are intent upon making summer plans. We hope that the above guidance helps you in this. We will continue to provide updates as they are available.

Small Group Gatherings Inside

On March 22, Governor Baker released a new guideline for meetings in public spaces.  Effective immediately, 100 people can gather for indoor meetings. 

In our case, meetings are things like faith formation, youth ministry, Bible studies, council meetings, support groups, and other like events.

This does not apply to worship – all of the previous guidelines still govern worship.

It should be emphasized that in these meetings:

  • Six feet of distance must still be maintained between participants
  • Masks must be worn covering the mouth and the nose
  • Ventilation must be as thorough as possible
  • Surfaces should be sanitized after the meeting
  • Food should not be served

Group Gatherings Outside (EXCLUDING outdoor Masses)

On March 22, Governor Baker released a new guideline for meetings in public spaces.  Effective immediately,  150 people can gather for outdoor non-liturgical gatherings. The following must also be adhered to:

  • All participants must wear masks
  • All participants must maintain six feet of distance.
  • The distribution of food is not allowed.
  • If you expect to have more than 25 at the gathering, notify your local department of health prior to gathering.

Communion Calls

Parishes can resume a normal frequency of Communion calls if the minister of Communion is fully vaccinated. Please take the following precautions:

  • The calls should continue to be brief, just long enough to bring the Sacrament, and should not be extended visits.
  • The minister must wear a mask and must disinfect his or her hands before giving Communion, and again after leaving the home.
  • If it is feasible for the communicant to wear a mask, that should be done.

Family Members Who are Extraordinary Ministers

  • Family members who are extraordinary ministers of Communion can continue to bring the Blessed Sacrament to their own families regardless of vaccination status.


The directives for baptisms are the same as those for Sunday Masses. The pastor must be able to ensure that the size of the congregation in the church does not exceed the current regulations regarding  capacity, and should not constitute more than the church can fit with social distancing maintained. For the current phase/capacity, go to our  CURRENT PHASE & CAPACITY page.

Funerals and Weddings

The directives for funerals are the same as those for Sunday Masses. The pastor must be able to ensure that the size of the congregation in the church does not exceed the current regulations regarding  capacity, and should not constitute more than the church can fit with social distancing maintained. For the current phase/capacity, go to our  CURRENT PHASE & CAPACITY page.

Additional Information for Funerals

  • The Funeral Director needs to be informed of all of the protocols, including limits on the number of attendees, and must cooperate with the pastor in enforcing those limits.
  • A priest, deacon, or other minister may not go to a wake during normal visiting hours. However, they may go before visiting hours, and pray only with the immediate family.
  • It should be requested that the eulogy be delivered at the funeral home or at the cemetery.

Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament

  • Adoration falls under the aegis of worship. All of the protocols in place for indoor Masses need to be followed during Adoration.
  • If a priest is not present during the whole time, another responsible staff member or volunteer must be designated to watch over the event and ensure its safety.
  • The space must be cleaned after Adoration.

Youth Ministry

  • Youth Ministry may be held as a small group inside (twenty-five or less), or a larger group outside (fifty or less).
  • Leaders must ensure that all safety protocols, especially masks and distancing, are observed at all times, both inside and outside.
  • The parish must not allow groups of youth to hang out without masks and without distancing on parish grounds before and after youth ministry events.
  • Food may not be served. However, participants can bring their own snacks if they wish.
  • If a parish is in the red zone, youth ministry should be suspended.


  • CYO Basketball will not be held this year.
  • Parishes may not lease out their space, either indoor or outdoor, to other leagues. If there is a pre-existing arrangement, the parish should contact the Archdiocesan legal office.
  • Sports should not be a part of Youth Ministry at this time.

Pilgrimages and Mission Trips

Pilgrimages and mission trips are not allowed at this time.