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Bishop Richard F. Stika has lifted mask mandates for all Masses in the Diocese of Knoxville beginning this weekend, May 22-23, which includes Pentecost Sunday.

“Effective this weekend, the use of face masks by parishioners during Mass will be optional,” Bishop Stika said. “This decision wasn’t made lightly, and it comes after consulting with medical professionals who live in the diocese and after reviewing much of the data on vaccination and infection rates. Our parishes will remain diligent in making sure we can worship in a clean and safe environment — but I think it’s time we eliminate the mask requirement.”

The mask mandate was among a series of updated COVID-19 safety protocols outlined in a decree issued by Bishop Stika on May 18, the seventh such proclamation issued by the Bishop since the pandemic began in March 2020. The new protocols also include updates on the distribution of Holy Communion and reaffirm the decision to reduce social distancing in pews to 3-feet.

“At the discretion of the pastor, each parish may, but isn’t required, to set aside a small section in the church for those parishioners who desire to wear a mask and maintain 6-feet social distancing,” Bishop Stika added.

Bishop Stika previously announced that the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in the Diocese of Knoxville also begins this weekend, May 22-23.

However, he said the obligation “does not apply to those who are ill, those who have reason to believe they were recently exposed to COVID-19 or another serious or contagious illness, those who are confined to their home, a hospital, or a nursing facility, those who care for the sick, the infirm, and the homebound, those who are unable to attend Mass through no fault of their own, those with underlying health conditions or in a high-risk category, and those who have significant fear or anxiety of COVID-19 exposure by attending Mass.”

Read the Bishop’s Decree here