PORTLAND — In accordance with Gov. Janet Mills’ guidelines, Catholic churches in Maine will temporarily allow a maximum of 50 persons in attendance for indoor daily and Sunday Masses, no later than Monday, Nov. 16.

The Maine CDC reported 204 new cases of COVID-19 on Nov. 9, a new single-day record. Maine’s seven-day average for new cases is now 160.9, a leap from a month ago when it was just 31.9. On Nov. 10, the CDC reported that Maine has the highest virus reproduction rate in the nation, according to a news release from Dave Guthro, communications director, Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

“At this time, the spike in COVID-19 cases has forced this temporary decrease of in-person attendance at Masses,” said Bishop Robert Deeley, according to the release. “I understand the great frustration felt by the many Catholics who have reached out to me. For you and me, the place in which we find Jesus is at Mass in the Eucharist. We believe that it is truly Jesus, assuring all that God is with us. Eucharist gives us the grace to live our lives as followers of Jesus. This includes promoting and defending the common good by taking care of each other. The mission of the Catholic Church always works to guide those it encounters to live in harmony and peace. In making this temporary change, we believe that we make this sacrifice for the common good.”

Strict adherence to state and diocesan protocols have led to the successful operation of the 141 Catholic churches in Maine during the pandemic. The protocols have included mandatory masks for Mass attendees; pew seating arrangements to separate individuals/families; and proper sanitization of pews and all touched surfaces after each Mass.

To date, no cases of COVID-19 have stemmed from a Mass at a Catholic Church in Maine since the start of the pandemic.

“Despite this success, commitment, and a desire to work with Gov. Mills’ office in a spirit of goodwill and mutual respect, the Catholic church has not been part of the discussion at any point during our state’s response to the pandemic,” said Deeley, according to the release. “We will continue to try to make the governor and her staff understand that nurturing a healthy spiritual life is a vital part of the life of many Mainers, including the nearly 250,000 Catholics in our state. Limiting attendance at Catholic churches, which have proven protocols in place as well as space to fit more people, is not the same as limiting a restaurant or casino. For many, there is no substitute for participating in Mass and receiving the Eucharist. We are hopeful that the governor’s office would consider us a partner in dealing with this terrible virus.”

The dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass continues to be in place, and the many live-streamed Masses being offered at churches around Maine (portlanddiocese.org) will also continue, enabling parishioners to participate in Masses from home.