Catholic churches in Maine will begin holding indoor Masses again on June 1, with physical distancing and safety rules in place to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. Each Mass will be limited to 50 people, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland announced.

The guidelines follow the Mills administration’s checklist for indoor religious services, which can begin May 29. The administration has been publishing “checklists” for business, social, community and religious gatherings for each stage of its three-stage reopening plan.

Drive-in religious services, where attendees stayed in their vehicles, were permitted starting May 1.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

“We are, of course, anxious to return to our churches and have the opportunity to celebrate Mass,” Bishop Robert Deeley said in a statement late Friday night. “We have been preparing for the last few weeks for a safe restoration of Mass in accord with the guidelines of the (Maine) CDC. There are a lot of things involved, but we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe and fulfill the mission of the church.”

All Catholic Masses in Maine were suspended starting on March 18.

The diocese will continue to livestream services at portlanddiocese.org because the 50-person limit will mean many cannot attend. Each parish will have a registration process for people to attend services.

“Some of the restrictions may seem to be too cautious for the faithful who wish to return to public Masses at this time,” Deeley said. “However, ensuring the safety and health of our clergy, employees, students, volunteers, parishioners, and the greater community remains our top priority.”

Those attending services must wear masks and sit at least 6 feet apart from one another. There will be no social gatherings before or after the services. No wine will be offered, but communion will still be given with proper social distancing. Holy water fonts will continue to be empty. Pews and seats will be disinfected after each Mass, and hand sanitizers will be widely available, the diocese said.

Those in high-risk groups, such as seniors and people with underlying medical conditions, are asked not to attend.

In New Hampshire, in-person church services are still prohibited, but priests can offer communion beginning this weekend under strict social distancing guidelines, The Associated Press reported.

Any large congregate settings – including church services – have been associated with the spread of the novel coronavirus. Last week, a Catholic church in Texas closed after five church leaders fell ill from COVID-19. The 79-year-old parish priest died, but it’s still being determined whether the priest died of COVID-19.

in addition, choirs are high-risk for COVID-19, according to a study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It showed more than 80 percent of people who had attended a choir practice fell ill from COVID-19.

“Choirs have been associated with COVID-19 outbreaks,” noted the Maine church reopening checklist published by the state on Friday. “Therefore, choirs are strongly discouraged at this time. There is a significant risk to participants through the increase in aerosolized droplets during singing.”


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