(Photo by Sarah Webb)

Responding to growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus, Archbishop Nelson J. Pérez has suspended all public Masses in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia effective at 12 noon on Wednesday, March 18, until further notice.

The archdiocese made the announcement Tuesday morning, March 17.

Government leaders and health department officials at the local, state and federal levels in the past week have advised with growing urgency the need to limit public gatherings in order to limit person-to-person transmission of the virus that has infected more than 180,000 people worldwide, with more than 7,000 deaths.

In accordance with the advice, last Thursday the archbishop relieved Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. 

According to new liturgical guidelines issued by the archdiocese March 17, Sunday and weekday Masses will be celebrated privately by priests and Mass intentions honored, but will not include congregations publicly. 

The sacrament of penance and Masses for funerals and weddings will continue for a small number of participants “and reasonable social distancing” in the church, according to the guidelines. Confessions are to take place in the church, not in a rectory or office.

Although public Masses will not be celebrated, churches are to remain open according to their normal custom for people to visit and pray. Eucharistic adoration may be offered to visitors who should be limited in number and who are encouraged to keep their distance from one another.

In his announcement, Archbishop Perez said his top priority “is to ensure the health and welfare of those entrusted to the pastoral and temporal care of our Church. So, in light of the developing coronavirus pandemic, a decision has been made to suspend the public celebration of all Masses in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the time being.

“All of us need to do our part to slow the spread of this illness. Like you, we are monitoring coronavirus developments and look forward to continuing our lives on a more normal basis.

“While things may look and feel different during these uncertain times, I want to be very clear that the Catholic Church in Philadelphia is not closing down. It is not disappearing and it will not abandon you. Time and again as our history has proven, the Church has risen to meet great challenges and provide a beacon of hope and light.”

“As your shepherd, I promise that the Church remains steadfast and is prepared to walk with you and serve you. Neither the Church nor its charitable works will stop. God is always by our side. He never abandons us. I invite you to join me in prayerful solidarity for the intentions of the sick, suffering, and their caregivers as well as government and health officials.

“With God’s grace and blessing, we will navigate the difficult waters of this challenge as a united human family, for after all is said and done, we are people of hope!”

Other aspects of church life affected by the directive include a cessation of Communion calls to the sick in homes and hospitals, and eucharistic celebrations outside of Mass. Liturgies for first penance and first holy Communion may be postponed to a later date.

Confirmations also will be postponed, as will annual celebrations scheduled for this month at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul such as the Mass for Persons with Disabilities and the Cultural Heritage Mass.  

Updates on the public schedule of liturgies for Holy Week spanning Palm Sunday (April 5) to Easter Sunday (April 12) will be forthcoming, according to the guidelines.

Catholics are invited to pray at home and review the Scripture readings for daily and Sunday Mass (see the readings every day here), choose to view the Mass on television or livestreamed on the Internet (see below) or pray the rosary with other local faithful nightly at 8 p.m. between March 13 and 24 both online in a video conference and via telephone (learn more here). 

Options for viewing the Mass at home include:

EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network): See the schedule for broadcast times here, and see this link for the Sunday Mass streamed live online.

WPVI TV, Channel 6: Sunday Masses at St. Malachy Parish, Philadelphia are aired every Sunday morning from 5:30 to 6 a.m.

CatholicTV: Daily and Sunday Masses are broadcast live and available for later viewing online.

Also select a televised Mass streaming live from parishes and shrines in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia:

St. Raymond of Penafort Parish, Philadelphia
St. John Neumann Parish, Bryn Mawr
St. Cornelius Parish, Chadds Ford
St. Mary Magdalen Parish, Media – Mass and chapel stream
Miraculous Medal Shrine, Philadelphia
St. Isidore Parish, Quakertown