SPRINGFIELD, Missouri — Starting next weekend, Catholic churches in southern Missouri can return to in-person Mass.

Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau Bishop Edward Rice announced the reopening in a letter to pastors dated March 16. The change is effective with the Vigil Mass on Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday.

Rice cited the increasing number of vaccinations and recent declines in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“For the Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday celebrations, you may want to plan for a larger congregation,” Rice wrote in the letter.

Some restrictions are encouraged. Masks are recommended, but social distancing will not be required if masks are used and local ordinances don’t require it. Communion will resume but priests and ministers “must sanitize and wear a mask” for the distribution.

As of Sunday, Missouri’s health department has reported 485,997 confirmed cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 8,374 deaths.