Funerals in Phase Two

On Monday, June 8, the State of Massachusetts began to implement Phase Two of the reopening of the State.
The following are up-to-date protocols in the Archdiocese of Boston for funerals.
All of the protocols that must be followed during a Sunday Mass must be followed during a funeral:
  • Masks must be worn.
  • Social distancing must be respected and controlled.
  • Limited number of participants.
  • No congregational singing.
  • No sign of peace.
  • Safe approach to Holy Communion.
  • Where it can be done safely a priest (alone) may participate in an opening and closing procession. [Many parishes have reported that a simple procession from the side is working fine for them at this point, and if that is the case for you, by all means continue that.]
  • No gift procession.
  • Church must be cleaned after every funeral.
  • If there is a daily Mass before the funeral, the church must be cleaned between the daily Mass and the funeral.

A priest, deacon or pastoral minister could go to the funeral home to do a wake service before the normally announced viewing hours with only the immediate family present, with masks being worn and social distancing being respected. If that is not possible in the particular setting of the funeral home, the priest, deacon, or pastoral minister should not go.

Directive Concerning a List for Notification for Those Attending Masses and Funerals

June 17, 2020

Directive concerning a list for notification for those attending Sunday Masses and Funerals

Thus far, the reopening of parishes for Sunday Masses has been very successful in the Archdiocese of Boston. Each week, more parishes open, and the numbers at Mass climb, albeit slowly. Pastors report that people in large measure are feeling safe, and that it is possible, although difficult, to have reverent and engaging liturgies with the current restrictions. There are significant challenges ahead, but we should be pleased with our progress.

  • Given our recent experience of a parish which had to close for several weeks because of the COVID diagnosis of a Mass attendee after he had attended the Mass and the subsequent need to let other attendees know, the following directive is in place from the weekend of June 20/21 forward:
  • Every person who attends a Sunday Mass or Funeral at your parish should be given the opportunity to put their name and contact information on a list to be notified if there is a positive COVID test of a person who also attended that Mass.
  • In some cases, a parish will already have a list of some of the attendees because of a registration system they are using, but all attendees should have the opportunity to add their name to a contact list even if they are not on a registration list.
  • Additionally, since an announcement should be made to this effect during the Mass, attendees should have the opportunity to add their name to the list by calling or emailing contact information to the parish office.
  • Since some attendees may choose not to add their names to the contact list for a variety of reasons, the announcement should also include the provision that any information about a such a case will be posted on the parish website, and that parishioners should check the website regularly.

Note that this information will not include the name of the person who tested positive, which will be kept confidential, but only the Mass which they attended and any other relevant non-personal information.

If a parish learns about such a situation, they should immediately notify their local board of health and the Risk Management office of the Archdiocese of Boston through the COVID 19 hotline, 617-746-5750, or via email at corona@rcab.org.

The same directive applies to funerals, although in the case of the funeral it may be that the funeral director can manage the process.

An announcement at the end of the Mass could look something like this, although you should feel free to adapt it to your own circumstances:

In the case of our discovering that someone at Mass today tests positive for COVID-19 in the next several days, we want to be able to inform all of you so that, in consultation with your physician, you can take the appropriate steps.

If you registered to come to Mass today, we already have your contact information, and will reach out to you if we learn that someone here has tested positive.

If you did not register, and if you wish to be contacted, please call or email the rectory with the appropriate contact information so that you can receive notification.

Even if you do not choose to leave your name, please know that we will make any announcement of a positive test on the parish website as well, so please check the website on a regular basis.

A Complete List of Sunday Mass Directives Can Be Found Here

Best Practices for Funerals During Phase Two

  1. Establish a strong line of communication between the parish and the funeral director, in general, and hopefully before each funeral.
  2. Form a core group of regular volunteers who are available and trained that can be scheduled for funerals to direct persons who have never been to the church even before the new guidelines.  Enforcing traffic patterns, seating restrictions and bathroom access is easier with helpful guides than with excessive and often confusing signage.
  3. A question has arisen about churches being used for wakes. Given all of the complexities of cleaning, etc., and given that this is an allowed but rare practice in non-COVID times, we would not recommend that wakes be held at churches at this time.
  4. Encourage the family to consider advertising the funeral as private in-person but streamed publicly.
  5. Find some way of determining who will be present at the funeral. You could use the same software you are using for registering people for Sunday Masses, or in some cases the funeral director could assist with this by working with the family to find out who they believe will be coming.  In many cases this might not be possible. If it is possible, it could be helpful especially if someone who was present at the funeral is later found to have had COVID, and you need to reach people to let them know.
  6. Stream the funeral using whatever means you have been using for streaming Sunday Masses (of course, with the family’s permission). Get the link to the stream to the family well ahead, so that they can send it around.
  7. If possible, have a Zoom meeting with the family well ahead of the funeral, to talk through all of the issues.  Have the funeral director and any key volunteers be a part of that meeting.
  8. Family members should be seated by trained volunteers, with social distancing respected during the process. Only mourners who are actually members of the same household should sit together.
  9. Have the casket brought into the front of the church by the funeral directors after family members are seated.
  10. Encourage the funeral directors to wear gloves when placing the pall, as it would be difficult to clean the pall between funerals.
  11. With regard to the choice of hymns, a question has arisen about whether familiar hymns (that is, ones that might encourage congregational singing) would be allowed. That seems like something that is best decided by the pastor who knows his own community, but that it must be clearly announced that in no way is the congregation invited to join in the singing.
  12. Discourage family readers or have at most only one reader.
  13. If there are family readers, you might want to set up a small lectern outside of the sanctuary with some kind of microphone, but also distant enough from the seated family, so that the reader would not have to wear a mask while reading.
  14. Prior to the distribution of Holy Communion, whatever directives you read to the people for the reception of Communion at Sunday Mass should be read to the participants in the funeral as well.
  15. When possible, encourage eulogies to take place at the graveside instead of in the church. The funeral policy of the Archdiocese of Boston does allow for a single, brief eulogy, but has some flexibility as to when it takes place. In this phase one time, parishes could certainly insist that the eulogy take place at the grave side.
  16. If there is an increase in cost to the parish because of the need to clean the church after the funeral, it would be reasonable for the funeral home to bear at least part of that cost.

In general, you may have to exercise a fair amount of pastoral judgment in this. Every worship space is different. As long as the basic directives are met, you should do what is compassionate, safe, and reverent. But, by all means, be very clear in your communication as to what is allowed and what you are doing.  Ambiguity is our enemy here – clear, practical communication is key.