Howard County, Maryland, has reversed a policy that banned consumption of any food or drink during religious services, effectively preventing the licit celebration of Mass.
A county spokesman told CNA May 28 the prohibition will be removed, and faith leaders will be consulted on future guidelines for church reopenings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball issued an executive order delineating reopening regulations and conditions for houses of worship and other entities deemed “non-essential” by the state of Maryland.
“There shall be no consumption of food or beverage of any kind before, during, or after religious services, including food or beverage that would typically be consumed as part of a religious service,” that order said.
The executive order was due to go into effect May 29.
On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of Baltimore said it had “serious concerns” about the policy, and that the “Eucharist is central to the faith lives of Catholics.”
The consumption of the consecrated species at Mass, at least by the celebrant, is an integral part of the Eucharistic rite. Rules prohibiting even the celebrating priest from receiving the Eucharist would ban the licit celebration of Mass by any priest.
After CNA reported on Wednesday about the terms of Howard County’s executive order, and the archdiocese responded, the policy was reversed.
“As we move closer to a full Phase 1 Reopening, we will be lifting food consumption restrictions for faith institutions. We are currently working through the next wave of policy changes and are continually analyzing the criteria for re-opening and the need for temporary restrictions,” Howard County spokesperson Scott Peterson told CNA May 28.
“Now that Governor Hogan announced a modified reopening of restaurants yesterday, Howard County is revisiting all food consumption restrictions,” Peterson added.
Peterson added that the county will “continue to work with our faith leaders to provide guidelines that will allow residents to worship safely and all religious leaders to resume practices safely.”
“We continue to evaluate best practices and consider recommendations across all faith institutions,” he said, noting that the Archdiocese of Baltimore had already published its own plans for the safe reopening of their churches and the resumption of public Masses.
“We will consider these guidelines, as well as any other guidelines or recommendations for re-opening provided by other religious leaders or institutions, in adopting a plan for the County’s move into full Phase 1 Reopening and, when appropriate, into Phase 2.”
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore said Thursday that she was “very pleased” by the county’s policy reversal.
“We are grateful to County Executive Ball and his team for working closely with our community and many others to ensure the health and safety of all while respecting essential elements of our faith traditions,” Mary Ellen Russell of the Baltimore archdiocese told CNA.
“These are unchartered waters for all in leadership, and it is essential that we continue to work together for the common good,” she added.
Other parts of the executive order remain in effect, including a requirement that worshippers wear masks and a limit on the number of people who can enter a building used for a religious service.