COVID19 prompts Archbishop Hebda to suspend Sunday Mass obligation

| March 12, 2020 | 0 Comments


In light of an increasing number of people diagnosed with the coronavirus in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard Hebda March 12 suspended the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. 

Public Masses will continue to be celebrated in the archdiocese’s parishes, but until further notice, “if the faithful decide that congregating for Sunday Mass would constitute a risk to themselves or others, they have the freedom not to attend,” the archbishop said.

“The Mass allows us to encounter Jesus in the Eucharist and strengthens community, so this is not a decision I take lightly,” Archbishop Hebda said in a letter addressed to the faithful of the archdiocese, posted on the archdiocese’s website and shared with clergy, parish administrators and Catholic school leadership.

The archbishop’s decision to suspend the Sunday Mass obligation came one day before Gov. Tim Walz held a news conference announcing a peacetime state of emergency in Minnesota to help fight spread of the virus and the respiratory illness it causes, COVID-19. Among other steps, state officials urged canceling or postponing events of 250 or more people. They also suggested that people increase their personal distance from one another to help prevent spread of the virus.

Fourteen people in Minnesota have tested positive for the illness, and two were hospitalized, the governor said.

In light of the governor’s recommendations, Archbishop Hebda suggested to pastors and parish administrators that they could add Masses to keep the size of their congregations down, or cancel Masses if they deem that necessary. The archbishop already on March 12 had suspended the Sunday Mass obligation because of the virus.

Parishes also can guard against transfer of the virus by disinfecting pews, door handles and other contact surfaces, removing hymnals and other items and using a solo cantor and accompanist, temporarily suspending choirs, the archbishop said.

Any event with more than 250 people and without adequate space for social distancing should be canceled, the archbishop said. Some parishes have creatively turned their Lenten fish dinners into “to go” events, he said.

The archbishop asked March 12 that people join him in a “special day of fasting, abstinence and prayer invoking God’s help in these challenging days for our archdiocese, our country and the world.”

That day will be March 18, between the feast of St. Patrick March 17 and the Solemnity of St. Joseph March 19, he said.

“On that day, I invite Catholics who are ordinarily bound to observe fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday to prayerfully make this same sacrifice next Wednesday,” Archbishop Hebda said.

Regarding Sunday Mass, even for those who stay home, Sunday remains a holy day, the archbishop said. Catholics should still observe the Lord’s Day by making a spiritual communion while watching Mass online, on TV, or radio, the archbishop said. 

“You can pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary and other devotions,” he said. “You may also attend Mass on a weekday when assemblies are smaller. Those attending Mass any time should continue to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading infection,” he said.

In addition to the letter, the archdiocesan website for the coronavirus includes precautions already being undertaken by parishes in the archdiocese, health resources and resources for parishes and Catholic schools.

In addition to the special day of abstinence and fasting March 18, the archbishop encouraged people to engage in other forms of prayer, such as a daily rosary as an individual or with family, he said.

 “From biblical times until the present day, history confirms that when the faithful unite in prayer and fasting, powerful things happen,” he said.

The archbishop also asked for prayers for the sick and dying, for those caring for them, including priests and deacons, and for those working to minimize the risk of COVID-19.

“Let us also remain calm and look out for all our brothers and sisters in need: those in our families, in our neighborhoods, and around the world,” the archbishop said. “When we unite for the common good, we can overcome fear and courageously face the challenges in the days ahead.”

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