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In wake of rising COVID-19 cases, Boston Archdiocese requiring parishioners to don face coverings in church starting Dec. 18

Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/FILE

Heading to Midnight Mass in Boston on Christmas Eve? Better bring a face covering.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston on Thursday said Cardinal Seán O’Malley is mandating that all parishioners attending public Masses wear face coverings starting Dec. 18, citing the recent spike in COVID-19 cases and expected increase in those numbers during the holiday season.

The archdiocese confirmed the policy in a statement and said it takes effect the weekend of Dec. 18 and 19 and expires Jan. 17, 2022. The mandate covers all public Masses including weddings and funerals. The statement said children under age 5 are exempt from the mandate, and that kids under 2 shouldn’t wear masks.

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Celebrants, deacons, readers, servers, choir members, and instrumentalists must all wear face coverings as well, the statement said, except when they’re speaking.

“During the past two years the people we serve have greatly benefited from our priests, laity and parishioners holding safety as a priority,” said Cardinal O’Malley in a statement. “With recognition of recent increases of COVID we believe this policy will provide an important and enhanced level of safety during the upcoming Christmas season Masses. We continue to encourage all who are eligible to get vaccinated. With care and concern for our parishioners and the wider community we hold it important to make extra efforts to limit the exposure and transmission of this deadly virus.”

Social distancing also remains paramount, the Archdiocese said, and parishes should have masks on hand for those who don’t have them, especially on Christmas. Churches are often filled to capacity during the holiday.

The release said “all churches must continue to provide a designated area in which social distancing is respected for those who want to use it. Parishes should have masks available for people inasmuch as possible, as some people attending especially on Christmas may not be expecting to need masks.”

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The announcement comes as Massachusetts, like much of the country, has been dealing with a recent COVID-19 spike, amid uncertainty surrounding worrisome variants including Delta and Omicron.

Massachusetts on Wednesday reported 5,403 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 12 new confirmed coronavirus deaths. The state also reported 59,709 vaccinations, including booster shots, had been administered, the Department of Public Health said.

The state also reported that 1,204 patients with COVID-19 were in the hospital. On Wednesday, the seven-day percent positivity was 4.99 percent.

The archdiocese had announced in May that parishioners vaccinated against COVID-19 were no longer required to wear masks or socially distance inside churches, prior to the sharp rise in case numbers, fueled in part by so-called “breakthrough cases” among the fully inoculated.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.