Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory announced June 8 that parishes in the District of Columbia and the Maryland counties of Prince George’s and Montgomery may resume public Masses beginning June 9, but attendance will be limited following the restrictions on the sizes of public gatherings in those jurisdictions.

“I am authorizing our parishes in the District and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties to begin celebrating Masses publicly in their churches or outside for up to 10 persons including clergy, consistent with the archdiocesan reopening guidelines,” Archbishop Gregory wrote in a letter to priests of the Archdiocese of Washington. “This includes the option of Holy Communion outside of Mass as also outlined in the reopening guidelines.”

Archbishop Gregory's letter came three days before Prince George's County officials announced that it was easing quarantine restrictions somewhat, and a week before  the District and Montgomery County announced it was easing restrictions

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said June 11 that “we (the county) are moving into Phase Two of reopening,... we have continued to see a decline” in cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“Phase Two” – which began June 15 – allows houses of worship to open at 25 percent capacity.

Among other provisions of Prince George's County's Phase Two reopening, retail outlets can open to the pubic with limited in-store capacity, and barbershops, salons, restaurants, outdoor pools and other businesses can open with a limited percentage of patron capacity.

Earlier this week, District and Montgomery County officials outlined what the easing of restrictions would entail.

Starting Friday, June 19, in Montgomery County, houses of worship  may conduct virtual, drive-in, and limited indoor and outdoor services with the requirement of one congregant or family unit per 200 square feet of service space. Indoor and outdoor gatherings will be permitted with a maximum of 50 or one person or family unit per 200 square feet, whichever is lower.

In Washington, starting Monday, June 22, houses of worship may hold public services at 50 percent capacity up to a maximum of 100 persons,  with social distancing required. Choirs and congregational singing are discouraged. Other parish gatherings, such as meetings or social gatherings, generally will be limited to 50 persons with social distancing.

Father Daniel B. Carson, the archdiocese’s vicar general and moderator of the Curia, noted in a June 8 letter accompanying Archbishop Gregory's letter  that while the archbishop has authorized public Masses in the District and the two Maryland counties, “a pastor may delay if still needing time to prepare or wanting to wait until his jurisdiction allows greater numbers.”

All public Masses in the archdiocese were suspended March 14 following local governments’ recommendations on how to halt the spread COVID-19 and address the coronavirus pandemic. Catholic schools were also temporarily closed at the time, and remain closed.

In his letter, Archbishop Gregory noted that “not all civil jurisdictions within the territory of the archdiocese have allowed religious gatherings in a consistent manner.”

On May 25, parishes in the Southern Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Calvert and Charles were able to resume public Masses under certain conditions after those local governments eased coronavirus restrictions to follow phase one of Maryland's reopening plan. Attendance cannot surpass 50 percent of the church building’s capacity and Mass-goers must abide by guidelines adopted by the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Washington's recommendations for resuming public Masses include these safety guidelines:

• Required social distancing.

• Required face coverings at all times while in church

• Required hand sanitizing upon entering the church.

• Required adherence to established protocols for the taking up of collection and the reception of Holy Communion.

• Required following of routes established to and from the sanctuary during the Communion rite and for departing the church (including dismissal by pews) at the end of Mass.

The sign of peace is not being offered at Masses, and parishioners are asked not to hold hands during the Our Father.

Those guidelines, and others which can be found online at https://adw.org/coronavirus/, will apply to those attending Masses in Washington, D.C., and in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, just as they do to parishioners in Southern Maryland.

In his June 8 letter,  archbishop Gregory also expressed his “hope and prayer that we can fully restore our liturgical life as expeditiously and safely as possible.”

Because of the limited number of persons who can attend Mass, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and holy days remain in effect.

For more information on what the faithful can expect when they return to Mass, visit https://adw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2020/05/20Coronavirus-Reopening-What-to-Expect-FINAL.pdf