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Archdiocese of Baltimore encourages return to in-person Mass, lifting COVID exemption

Citing declining coronavirus metrics, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced Wednesday it is imminently lifting the exemption for attending Mass on Sundays and holy days.

Beginning June 26, the “faithful” are encouraged to return to full, in-person services, according to a news release from the Archdiocese of Baltimore and those in other jurisdictions. Furthermore, the church leaders lifted social-distancing requirements, where localities allow it.

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“It is with great hope that we look forward to an end to the pandemic and to the complete reopening of our parish communities for in-person worship,” Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori said in a statement. “This is indeed a moment worthy of celebration and thanksgiving.”

The obligation does not apply to those who are sick, those who were recently exposed to the coronavirus or another contagious illness, those with serious underlying health conditions and those who are confined to their home, a hospital or nursing home, according to the release.

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Lori said the virtual services in various parishes have served as “constant consolation” and that most would continue to offer such options for worship. However, he encouraged parishioners to “pursue a deeper encounter with our Lord” by attending in-person Mass.

Joining the diocese in Baltimore are those in Washington; Arlington and Richmond in Virginia; Wheeling, West Virginia; and Wilmington, Delaware, a diocese that includes the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The clergy members encouraged parishioners to consult their local pastor if they have questions about the obligation.

The diocese touted the decline of new COVID-19 cases and the availability of the vaccine in reaching their decision.

“In light of the continued decline in cases and in hospitalizations, as we progress beyond the long-present threat of COVID-19,” Lori said, “I invite and encourage you to begin attending Mass in person again, confident that at this time, a return to our parish communities is safe for a vast majority of us.”

As of Wednesday, Maryland averaged 235 new coronavirus infections daily over the last two weeks, a pandemic low. And the number of people currently hospitalized Wednesday was about a quarter of what the tally was at the peak of an April surge of the virus.

Meanwhile, more than 48% of the state’s 6 million residents have been fully vaccinated and upward of 57% of the population has received at least one coronavirus immunization.

“These are certainly joyous days ahead,” Lori’s statement read.

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