Bishop Marshall’s updated guidelines regarding masks

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

For the past eighteen months, we have been living with various restrictions on our personal interactions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  While the danger continues to exist – particularly for many of the most vulnerable members of our community – the impact of the recent variant has subsided over the last month.  The mask mandate for outdoor gatherings was lifted some time ago, and now local public authorities have also lifted the mask mandate for most indoor gatherings.  As a bishop without any medical training, I have resisted the urge to substitute my untrained medical judgment for that of the public health professionals.  I have consistently instructed our pastors and others in ministry to abide by the then-applicable guidelines.

As a result of the lifting of the mask mandate for most indoor gatherings, I issue the following instructions for Mass attendance and for participation in most other parish activities.  Because the mask mandate continues for K-12 schools (with the possibility of exemptions), the eight Catholic schools in the Diocese of Alexandria are not included in these instructions.  Separate instructions are being issued for our Catholic schools.

  1. As a general rule, masks are not required to attend Mass at a Catholic church in the Diocese of Alexandria. Masks are permitted, however, and many of our parishioners may choose to wear them to protect themselves and others.  I ask that everyone respect the decisions made by others with regard to their personal health. 
  2. Pastors are asked to ensure that worship spaces continue to be sanitized on a frequent basis and that hand sanitizer remains available to all worshippers and particularly to those distributing the Eucharist.
  3. The moratorium on distributing Communion from the cup continues.
  4. Churches may resume making Holy Water available, though only in containers that are washed and refreshed regularly (at least once a week).
  5. All worshippers should respect the sensibilities of others. In particular, some may choose to wear a mask, maintain social distance, and refrain from engaging in physical contact during the sign of peace.
  6. The same guidelines and cautions should be in effect for all parish functions outside of Mass. Again, Catholic schools will be addressed separately.
  7. People with any symptoms of the virus should stay home until they can be tested and/or recover their health. If someone tests positive, please abide by applicable instructions for quarantining and/or isolation.
  8. Among the institutions where a mask mandate may remain in effect are hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities. No priest, deacon, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, or minister to the sick should seek to enter a medical or health care facility without abiding by the guidelines in place for that facility.  Engaging in ministry does not give one the ability to flaunt the mask-requirement or other restrictions in place for a vulnerable population of patients or residents.  Indeed, all Catholic ministers should be eager to abide by any restrictions in place in order to carry out their ministry safely.

As the pandemic is not at an end, the removal of the mask mandate and the lifting of other restrictions may not be permanent.  Another surge in our area – or in a particular community – may necessitate another mask mandate or other restrictions, either diocesan-wide or affecting a particularly hard-hit community.  Please continue to respect the guidelines issued by public health authorities.

I recognize that this has been a trying time for all of us.  I pray that the virus will soon be conquered and that healing, reconciliation and forgiveness can take place among our brothers and sisters.  May our loving God bless you and your family with good health and with a respect for the dignity of all human life.

Live Jesus in our hearts,

Most Reverend Robert W. Marshall, Jr.
Bishop of Alexandria