Howard County in Maryland has issued new guidelines for the reopening of houses of worship, bringing its regulations in line with the rest of the state. A previous executive order had prohibited the consumption of any food or drink during a religious service, effectively barring the celebration of Mass.
“Howard County will be aligning its reopening status with the State of Maryland, as well as [Gov. Larry Hogan’s] previous orders, which includes allowing indoor faith services at 50 per cent capacity as outlined by the Governor’s Executive Order” said a release from the county on Wednesday, June 3. The updated guidance goes into effect this weekend.
Previously, an order from Howard County executive Calvin Ball, issued May 26, limited indoor religious services to 10 people, and limited outdoor services to 250 socially-distanced worshippers who were wearing masks during reopening. That executive order also banned the licit celebration of Mass by prohibiting the consumption of food or drink before, after, or during a religious service, but lifted that restriction following a report by CNA.
Following the May 26 county order, the Archdiocese of Baltimore expressed “serious concerns” about the restrictions it placed on Mass, noting that “for the Catholic community, the reception of Communion is central to our faith lives and to our public worship.”
A statement released by the county June 3 said that officials had “been in contact with more than 200 faith leaders across the county throughout the pandemic,” and that it is up to individual churches to decide whether or not they plan on holding indoor services.
An executive order by Gov. Hogan, issued June 3, states that “Subject to applicable Local Orders, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other similar religious facilities of any faith in the State of Maryland (“Religious Facilities”) may open to the general public, provided, however, that the total number of persons permitted in a Religious Facility at any one time shall not exceed 50% of that Religious Facility’s Maximum Occupancy.”
The Archdiocese of Baltimore, which includes Howard County, has issued its own reopening plans. Although the state of Maryland will now allow 50% occupancy for indoor religious services, the archdiocese has chosen to limit capacity to 33% for the time being.
“The number of individuals present at Mass, including liturgical ministers, does not exceed the Archdiocese’s restriction on the number of people able to be gathered: up to 1/3 of the church’s seating capacity with physical distancing required (in many cases this will be far less than 1/3 capacity),” says the archdiocese’s Phase II regulations.