FALL RIVER—Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., has issued further directives addressing various aspects of liturgical and sacramental practices in parishes in the Fall River Diocese in the midst of this coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter to priests of the Diocese dated March 26, 2020, Bishop da Cunha writes, “In recent weeks, our Diocese has joined with others across the country and around the world in taking unprecedented action in response to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is my fervent prayer that these steps will help in the prevention of further spread of the virus and in the overall support of the health and well-being of all persons in our communities.”
The bishop goes on to point out that these steps, while necessary, significantly affect parish life and have raised questions “with regard to the best way to continue to serve our faithful given these extraordinary times, in a way that is consistent across our Fall River Diocese.”
In response, Bishop da Cunha issued a series of directives to provide instruction to parishes and to ensure unified practices in all diocesan parishes. To become effective immediately, they build upon and in some areas supersede previous diocesan guidelines and rules.
A summary of these directives follows below:
Public Hours for Churches
Churches may continue to remain open for limited times during the day -to the extent possible and at the discretion of the pastor- to provide parishioners who still wish with an opportunity to visit for private prayer. Either the pastor or a designated parish staff member must be attentive to the number of visitors present at any given time (not to exceed 10) and the need for ongoing cleaning and sanitizing during and after public hours. The elderly and others considered especially vulnerable to the virus are strongly discouraged from visiting for their own protection and are encouraged to pray at home instead.
No distribution of Holy Communion is to take place either inside or outside the church to minimize the risk of infection and spread. Exceptions are permitted for cases of Viaticum.
Sacrament of Reconciliation
Parishes are to cancel all Lenten penance services and suspend all regularly scheduled confession times. Priests may offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation only in danger of death, or by appointment in extraordinary situations. In these cases, social distancing practices must be observed, while at the same time ensuring privacy for the penitent. There are to be no confessions by telephone, other electronic means, or by “drive by”.
As Pope Francis reminded us in his homily of March 20, 2020, priests are encouraged to remind the faithful who are physically unable to attend individual Confession of the Church’s teaching on perfect contrition. Such contrition arises when the penitent expresses a love of God above all else, the sincere desire for forgiveness, and firm resolution to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as possible when available. Perfect contrition obtains the forgiveness of sins both venial and mortal (cfr. Catechism of the Catholic Church 1452).
Baptisms & Weddings
Families should be strongly encouraged to postpone these celebrations, understanding how difficult this will be for them as they seek these sacramental gifts. If they are to be celebrated because of extraordinary concerns, the following should be noted: only the immediate family should attend, not to exceed a total of 10 persons in the church at any time; and weddings are to take place without the celebration of Mass.
Funeral Masses are not be permitted in keeping with our priority to minimize the risk of transmission of the virus. Funerals may take place only in the form of “The Rite of Committal with Final Commendation” (also known as the “graveside service”) at the cemetery, to be celebrated outdoors, and only the immediate family should attend. Memorial Mass should be scheduled at a later date when the restrictions for public gathering have been lifted.
Public celebrations may not take place. Private celebrations may take place using the Solemn Entrance when Mass is live streamed or televised. Following the Palm Sunday Mass/Blessing, the blessed palm branches should be made available to parishioners either in the vestibule of the church or in an appropriate place outside one of the entrances. Please note that this is subject to change depending on the circumstances of the virus outbreak at that time.
Bishop da Cunha will celebrate the annual Chrism Mass in St. Mary’s Cathedral on Holy Thursday, April 9, at 10:00 a.m. with a small group of priests concelebrating. Plans are being made to live stream the Chrism Mass and instead of attending this year, priests and the faithful are encouraged to watch the Mass.
With regard to the rule of abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent, anyone having difficulty obtaining alternatives for sustenance during this crisis is dispensed from this obligation with the exception of on Good Friday. Fridays of Lent remain days of penance and prayer, and those dispensed from abstinence should be encouraged to practice some other form of denial in its place.
In his closing comments to priests, Bishop da Cunha recognized that, “the remainder of this Lent and our upcoming Holy Week will be like no other any of us have ever experienced.”
The bishop understands that the same will be true for parishioners of the Fall River Diocese.
“I want to assure all of the faithful of our Diocese that I –along with your priests- continue to pray for you and your loved ones, for your health and well-being in these unsettling and challenging days, said Bishop da Cunha.
“I ask all of you to join your prayers with mine in a special way for those who have died from Covid-19 and those who are now infected with the virus, may Christ, the divine physician, bring them healing and strength.”