Churches can be open for prayer, confession, but gatherings must be limited to 100 people or fewer

DETROIT — As the cases of COVID-19 in Michigan continue to grow, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron is announcing the suspension of all public Masses until April 6.

The move comes after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced on Thursday, March 12, there were 12 cases of the coronavirus spread across the state of Michigan.

Archbishop Vigneron’s order takes effect Saturday, March 14, lifting the obligation for the faithful to attend Sunday Mass, an authority given to him as ordinary of the Archdiocese of Detroit.

In a letter to the faithful, Archbishop Vigneron said the decision to suspend Mass until Monday, April 6, the day after Palm Sunday, was not taken lightly, but after consultation with health care professionals and government officials.

Find online, radio or television Mass opportunities at aod.org

“The celebration of Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of the Catholic faith, through which we encounter and enter into sacred Communion with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “The decision to temporarily suspend this practice was not and must never be taken lightly. As Mass is a commemoration of Christ’s great act of love for us, we take this unprecedented measure with eyes fixed on him and his greatest commandment to love one another, which in this difficult time means that we ensure the health and safety of our community by following the wise counsel of  local, state, and federal government and health officials.”

In an earlier letter Thursday, Archbishop Vigneron stressed that such extenuating circumstances relieve the faithful of their duty to attend Mass.

“You are excused from your Sunday Mass obligation in situations where there is a physical or moral impossibility,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “Nevertheless, the precept remains of keeping the Lord’s Day holy, which requires that we refrain from servile work on Sunday and increase our love of the Lord and charity to others through prayer and service. Where possible, participation in a broadcast (online, radio or TV) of the Sunday Mass and a Spiritual Communion are advised.”

Resource: A Prayer for Spiritual Communion

In addition to the suspension of Mass, all faith formation courses, communal Penance services, and other parish events — such as fish fries and public processions — will be suspended in the Archdiocese of Detroit until Monday of Holy Week, April 6. 

Pastors are allowed to use their discretion in opening churches for prayer or Eucharistic adoration, but measures must be taken to ensure no more than 100 people are in the church and to encourage people to spread out in the church and keep their distance from one another.

“Whenever the church remains open, it is the responsibility of the pastor (or the one who he designates) to ensure that no more than 100 people are present at one time,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “This directive is given by local government so that the number of cases of those infected with COVID-19 does not spike. Therefore, so as to refrain from large gatherings, there will be no posted times for collective prayers, recitation of the Rosary, or other set times for gathering.”

Authorities are asking churches and other community groups to have no more than 100 people gather at a space, saying they will enforce the mandate in an effort to promote social distancing. 

Parish-based adoration chapels and social halls are also to close — encouraging any prayer services or adoration that does take place to happen in the larger church space, with the faithful encouraged to spread out.

Priests may hear individual confessions at their discretion. For churches that are open, the Archdiocese of Detroit directs that holy water fonts be emptied and cleaned — and remain empty — and that parishes do a “deep clean” of the church and campus.

All confirmation Masses planned between now and April 6 have been postponed, but baptisms, weddings and funerals can still take place — provided there are less than 100 people in attendance. Any Mass to be celebrated during these ceremonies will have only the priest receiving Communion, except as Viaticum.

The Archdiocese of Detroit is working to make broadcast of daily Mass more easily accessible on its website, which Archbishop Vigneron encourages the faithful to view as part of an effort to make Sunday a day of prayer. 

The Archdiocese of Detroit will broadcast a private (closed-door) Mass celebrated by Archbishop Vigneron from the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament at noon Sunday. The faithful can watch and participate in real-time at www.aod.org/livemasses and on the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Facebook page.

Archbishop Vigneron offered a particular prayer to the faithful during this trying time: “As you temporarily participate at Mass in this different way, you and your families are encouraged to make a daily Spiritual Communion by praying: ‘My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things and I desire to receive you in my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there. And unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.’”

Late Thursday night, Gov. Whitmer canceled classes of all public, private and boarding schools in the state. In response, the Archdiocese of Detroit’s Department of Catholic Schools announced it will close schools until April 6.

Earlier in the week, the archdiocese recommended parishes cancel events and take precautionary measures such as refraining from holding hands during the Our Father or receiving the Precious Blood in Mass.

On Thursday, May 12, Fr. Jeffrey Day, vicar general and moderator of the curia, advised Chancery employees to work from home on Friday, March 13, if possible. The downtown Central Services offices will be closed Monday, March 16, and Tuesday, March 17, “for deep cleaning and for a time of discernment about the next steps.”

“We ask all coworkers to pray for the safety of those affected by the virus, those caring for the sick and for an end to the coronavirus crisis,” Fr. Day said. 

News of the cancellation of public Masses comes after the Catholic Youth Organization canceled its Scout Mass for March 15 at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and Sacred Heart Major Seminary, the University of Detroit Mercy and Madonna University announced they were cancelling classes for an extended period of time.

As of March 12, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has confirmed 12 cases of COVID-19 in the state, with 26 test results pending and 554 cases referred for assessment and/or monitoring.

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention are encouraging families to stay home from work and school and avoid large crowds in a disease-prevention strategy called “social spacing.”

The CDC website states: “currently a vaccine or drug is not available for COVID-19. Community-based interventions such as school dismissals, event cancellations, social distancing and creating employee plans to work remotely can help slow the spread of COVID-19. Individuals can practice everyday prevention measures like frequent hand washing, staying home when sick, and covering coughs and sneezes.”

The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, with more than 1,700 confirmed or presumptive cases of the coronavirus in the United States, with 41 deaths. Globally, there have been 125,048 confirmed cases of the virus, with 6,729 in the last 24 hours.

As the cases of COVID-19 continue to grow, the depth and breadth of the virus’ impact in southeast Michigan are growing, Archbishop Vigneron wrote he remains in solidarity with the faithful during these trying times. 

“As I mentioned in my letter yesterday, let us entrust ourselves to Our Lady of Lourdes, patron for those who suffer illness,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “Through her intercession, may God grant healing and protection to the people of southeast Michigan and beyond. And let us, by the courageous hope with which we face the challenge of the virus’ spread, give witness to our confidence in the good news of the Lord’s victory over suffering and death.”

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