The role of extraordinary ministers extends the participation of the laity in the rituals of our faith.

An extraordinary minister of holy Communion distributes the host at a church in Elmwood Park, Ill. (CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Chicago Catholic)

UPDATED – Catholics in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia not wishing to attend Sunday Mass for fear of spreading or contracting the coronavirus are no longer obligated to do so, until further notice.

The archdiocese made the announcement Thursday, March 12.

Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez, in union with all the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania, “has dispensed the faithful … from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass,” according to an archdiocesan statement.

But all regularly scheduled Masses in the 214 parishes of the archdiocese will remain open to the public for all those who to want to participate.

The highly infectious and deadly virus has sickened more than 132,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, with 1,700 cases and 41 deaths in the United States, just in the past seven weeks since it was first detected in China.


It can be spread through person-to-person contact, which has led civic leaders, sports leagues, colleges and religious communities to cease large gatherings of people in order limit exposure to the virus, also known as COVID-19.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued an order March 12 to close all schools, gyms, community centers and entertainment venues in Montgomery County, which has detected 13 presumptive positive coronavirus cases of the state’s total of 22 to date, according to the Pa. Department of Health.

“No mass gatherings should be held, including conferences and rallies,” Wolf said. “By closing these facilities, we can control the spread of this disease, that’s the hope. And we can redirect our public safety and health officials to where they are needed the most.”

The plan takes effect March 13 and will last 14 days in the hopes that “social distancing” — limiting person-to-person contact — will prevent further spread of the virus.

Information about the crisis from the Philadelphia Archdiocese has been issued with increasing frequency. Directives for parish celebrations of the Mass issued on March 4 were followed by additional clarifications on March 10.


Together, they instruct priests, deacons and extraordinary minsters of holy Communion to keep their hands clean before and during the celebration of mass and distribution of the Eucharist.

Distribution of the Precious Blood has been suspended, and the archdiocese advises parishes to drain holy water fonts in the churches.

But even as distribution of the hosts to the faithful continues as an integral part of the Catholic liturgy, problems have arisen including “overreaching reactions and applications of the directives,” according to a statement from Father Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocesan Office for Divine Worship.

Therefore, while a parish pastor may suggest that persons receive Communion in the hand, a Catholic’s wishes to receive instead on the tongue must be honored.

Such persons must not be asked “to take their places at the end of the Communion procession,” Father Gill wrote in response to that circumstance.

Some ministers of Communion have refused to offer the host on a person’s tongue, or are otherwise uncomfortable in distributing the sacrament at this time for fear of contracting or spreading the virus.

In that case, “he or she should voluntarily step aside from this ministry,” according to the directives.

It has become customary at this time for many people to forego a handshake when greeting one another in public. Accordingly the exchange of the sign of peace in the Mass has become a moment to nod one’s head, bow respectfully or bump elbows.


Since the sign of peace is an optional yet regular part of the liturgy, some parish celebrations have omitted it entirely and moved immediately to the Eucharistic fracturing rite (the “Lamb of God”) in the liturgy.

Those attending Mass in recent weeks may already be familiar with changes in the liturgical celebrations.

For those who will be joining the Sunday celebration from home, the following options for viewing the Mass are available both on television and streaming online:

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 click below to 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