The Catholic Sun will continue to update this developing story.
By Katherine Long | Editor, and Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer
All public gatherings in the Diocese of Syracuse for Mass, prayer, Faith Formation, and certain parish activities are suspended effective immediately, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia announced Monday.
“This decision is not an easy one,” the bishop wrote in a letter to clergy. A letter from Bishop Lucia to the faithful was also posted on the diocesan website, and he later recorded a video message as well. (Watch below.) “Never did I think or ever imagine I would have to ask people not to gather for the Holy Eucharist. Nonetheless, I recognize my own obligation to ensure the health of the faithful, including our clergy, both spiritually and physically.”
While public Masses are suspended, priests are allowed and encouraged to offer Mass in private. Bishop Lucia will livestream his private celebration of daily Mass at 12 p.m. each day on the diocesan YouTube channel; plans are being developed to livestream the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration, and a Lenten retreat.
Each week, local television stations in each region of the diocese air a pre-recorded Mass produced by Syracuse Catholic Television. Check your local listings here.Those same Masses are available online any time on Syracuse Catholic Television’s YouTube channel. We also have a list of parishes offering livestreamed or pre-recorded Masses.
The bishop said it was his “hope and prayer” to lift the suspension in time for Holy Week and Easter, “but that will have to be a decision for a later date.” The Syracuse Diocese joins at least 20 U.S. dioceses, including New York, Boston, and Chicago, that had by midday Monday suspended public Masses in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Priests are asked, as health and age permit, to “remain available for sacramental emergencies and pastoral appointments while maintaining the necessary public health precautions,” the bishop wrote.
Churches may stay open for private prayer at the pastor’s discretion. Public devotions are to be suspended. Regular or perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament are to be moved to a larger space to ensure at least 6 feet of social distance. “If a church is open, pastors should ensure that there is a thorough daily cleaning of all surfaces and that social distancing is maintained,” the letter said.
Weddings, funerals, and baptisms may proceed, but “attendance should be limited to immediate family” and social distancing maintained, the bishop directed.
The Sacrament of Penance (Confession) should continue to be offered, with appropriate modifications, including moving from a confessional to a larger room where 6 feet of social distance may be maintained between the priest and the penitent and using a screen to block airflow.
In providing pastoral care to the sick, priests are to follow all protocols recommended by health professionals. If a priest is asked to anoint an individual with coronavirus, canon law permits the use of “an instrument,” such as a cotton swab, and the instrument is to be “disposed of in a reverent manner.”
Bishop Lucia noted that canceling public Masses will likely affect parish finances and operations. Parishioners may mail their offerings or contribute through online giving where available. Bishop Lucia has also postponed the start of this year’s HOPE Appeal campaign; Commitment Weekend in parishes was scheduled for May 2 and 3.
Parish offices may remain open with essential staff at the pastor’s discretion, with regular thorough cleanings and appropriate social distancing. The bishop also recommended a deep cleaning of the entire parish.
“By implementing effective social distancing measures, the Diocese of Syracuse supports the common good of all citizens and prioritizes the dignity of every human life, especially those most susceptible to the virus at this time. It is necessary to keep in mind the common good of public health and the importance of doing our part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus by avoiding large gatherings,” Bishop Lucia wrote.
The diocese’s response to the coronavirus affects 227,000 Catholics across seven counties. In addition to 114 parishes, 11 missions, and seven oratories, the diocese operates six Catholic Charities agencies with dozens of programs; 22 diocesan schools and 264 offices employing about 3,000 people.
Updated liturgical protocols were issued March 12. On Friday, Bishop Lucia released Catholics in the diocese from the obligation to attend Sunday Masses. All 22 diocesan Catholic schools are set to close by mid-week until April 14.