Churches will not be open for private prayer during the Triduum and some sacramental celebrations will be postponed indefinitely following new directives issued by Bishop Douglas J. Lucia in response to the coronavirus.
“As you and I enter more deeply into celebration of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery, we enter as well the next stage of our diocesan plan concerning the COVID-19 pandemic,” the bishop wrote in an April 6 letter to the diocesan community.
“Both medical experts and some local officials have spoken about the critical importance of social distancing and voluntarily sheltering in place, particularly during the next two weeks, to stem the tide of the coronavirus,” Bishop Lucia wrote.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon April 5 asked the public to voluntarily shelter in place April 7 through 21. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo April 6 directed schools and nonessential businesses to remain closed through April 29.
In order “to abide by these vital recommendations,” Bishop Lucia directed the following measures:
• Churches cannot remain open for private prayer on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, or Easter due to the need for people to stay home unless absolutely necessary.
• If pastors wish to reopen their churches for private prayer after Easter, they must ensure that definite hours are announced and that their facilities are cleaned and sanitized frequently.
• The Sacrament of Penance can only be offered upon request until further notice, observing all necessary health precautions and social distancing measures.
• The faithful can continue to have access to the sacraments at “appropriate times” (can. 843 of the Code of Canon Law). Consequently, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the Sacrament of Confirmation are postponed until further notice. The baptism of children and the celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony should be postponed whenever possible. The Eucharist may only be administered as viaticum, observing all necessary health precautions. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick should only be administered in circumstances in which danger of death is imminent.
The orders also clarify that the “Easter duties” — receiving Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter season and confessing grave sins at least once per year — may be fulfilled any time between the First Sunday of Lent and Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020. “When it is impossible for those who have not already done so to fulfill these duties, they are suspended. Therefore, there is no obligation to fulfill them during the Easter season, unless and until public gathering for Mass and prayer resume,” the directives explain.
Bishop Lucia urged Catholics to access faith resources available at syrdio.org and to “participate virtually in the various solemn liturgical celebrations of the Sacred Triduum as well as by celebrating Holy Week at Home, an initiative of the Offices of Catechesis and Liturgy.”
The new measures are the latest efforts made by the diocese to arrest the spread of the coronavirus. Public Masses were suspended March 16, public Holy Week celebrations were canceled March 20, and instructions for celebrating private Holy Week and Easter liturgies without practices such as the distribution of blessed palms or the washing of feet were issued March 30.