The Archdiocese of New York announced Saturday afternoon it was canceling all Masses beginning March 14 amid Lent, one the most significant holy seasons for Catholics. The decision comes a day after the Archdiocese advised parishioners to use their best judgment on whether to attend services during the coronavirus outbreak that has caused more than 500 cases in the state.
Before Saturday’s announcement, the Archdiocese noted the church has always exempted from Mass attendance those with “serious medical issues” or during times of emergency. Churches would remain open for individual prayer, and closed services would be live-streamed when possible.
Across the United States — and the world — houses of worship are balancing their role as places for fellowship and spiritual support with heeding public health directives that include social distancing and government orders to halt all mass gatherings.
From Manila to Rome to Mecca, religious authorities have closed down or restricted access to churches, mosques, synagogues and other crowded religious sites where the virus can spread. A now-shut messianic church in South Korea, for example, helped spark the country’s epidemic. The Russian Greek Orthodox Church, however, said Saturday that it would not stop holding services, even if the coronavirus outbreak there worsened, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.
“I’ll tell you for sure that we will neither close the churches nor cancel the services,” Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, told a Russian news channel, according to Interfax.
The Greek Orthodox Church has also refused to stop a Holy Communion ritual in which worshipers sip from the same spoon, the Guardian reported.
Iran has also come under criticism for not closing down revered shrines and mosques in the holy city of Qom, the epicenter of the country – and now wider region’s – outbreak.
In the U.S., where churches, temples and mosques are halting services, the change is both socially and spiritually disrupting.
The 42-year-old lives with her husband and five children outside Seattle, where the Catholic archbishop on Wednesday became the first in the country to suspend all public Masses. Bartel usually attends Mass three times a week. Not to have that sacramental contact with God on a weekly or daily basis, especially during Lent, is a deep loss, she said.
“We believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are in the mystery of the Mass — it’s at the heart of our lives.”