With prayers for the pandemic’s end, Santa Fe Catholics celebrated their last in-person Masses on Sunday until further notice.

Citing the public health crisis, Archbishop of Santa Fe John C. Wester said in-person Mass would be suspended in accordance with the Catholic faith’s concern for the protection of human life.

“Having a place to come to worship with other people is really important. Watching it on TV can kind of get lazy. You don’t stand and kneel, and it’s not quite as reverent,” Maria Levine said outside Santa Maria de la Paz Catholic Church after Mass on Sunday morning with her 1-year-old daughter, Lucia. “Hopefully, it’s just a short break.”

As COVID-19 rates and hospitalizations continue to rise across New Mexico, the state public health orders still permit religious ceremonies, which qualify under the same category as retail stores and restaurants, at 25 percent occupancy. Meanwhile, mass gatherings such as private parties, public events, ceremonies, parades and organized sports of more than five people are prohibited.

“We appreciate the archdiocese for taking the pandemic seriously,” said Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office.

The archdiocese is still permitting in-person instruction at Catholic schools, while weddings and funerals with rites but not full Masses can continue with no more than 10 people.

“Combined with the perennial influenza season which is fast approaching and persons being in closer quarters during the winter, this portends to a perfect storm to form an extremely hazardous situation,” Wester wrote in a public letter. “Hospitals are also reaching maximum capacity for treating patients.”

In masks and staggered pews, over 100 people attended the 9:30 a.m. Sunday Mass at Santa Maria de la Paz near Santa Fe Community College. Holy water by the entrance was offered in individual paper cups, and the sign of peace was a wave instead of a handshake. The Mass concluded with an announcement that next week’s service would be broadcast live on social media.



St. Anne Parish off Agua Fría Street also drew around 100 people Sunday. The Rev. Larry Brito, who won’t start streaming his services but will post his homilies online, said he disagreed with the archbishop’s decision.

“We can’t sugarcoat it. People are being deprived of something very special,” Brito said. “It doesn’t look good for Christmas. We already missed all our major feasts, Easter and Holy Week, and here we go again.”

Outside Santa Maria de la Paz, Cynthia Araujo echoed a similar disappointment in a year without traditions. Her son, Justin Araujo, missed out on his traditional first communion over the summer.

“Our Sunday tradition, after we leave Mass we usually go to the Pantry, and we eat there,” said Justin Araujo, a fourth grader at Piñon Elementary School.

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