Masses will continue, but the obligation is lifted for vulnerable people

Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, at the Vatican March 10, 2020. For the second day this week the pope celebrated Mass without a small group of the faithful in order to avoid the risk of spreading the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

The Archdiocese of Louisville announced late March 11 that, in light of the centrality of the Eucharist, weekend and daily Masses would still be held for now, but the obligation is lifted for elderly and vulnerable people.

As COVID-19 reached pandemic status worldwide March 11, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear urged churches around the state to cancel services this weekend.

In a letter to parish leaders, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz wrote March 11, “I want individuals who feel vulnerable, especially senior citizens or those with underlying health conditions, to know that they are not obligated to attend Sunday Mass.”

He encouraged those who are ill or exhibit symptoms, “to stay home as an act of Christian charity for their fellow parishioners.”

“The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of the life of the Church,” he wrote. “Perhaps especially in difficult times, liturgical gatherings are a source of comfort and hope for the faithful, as well as an opportunity to offer our prayers to God for those who are suffering or who cannot be with us.

“At the same time, it is important — especially for those who are ill, feel vulnerable, or feel afraid — to be able to exercise individual discretion in light of this situation,” the archbishop wrote.

He encouraged sick or vulnerable Catholics to make use of Mass of the Air instead of attending Mass. He said he also planned to provide information to parish leaders about mitigating risks in large gatherings.

Archbishop Kurtz noted that he made the decision to continue Masses “with the information I have now.” He added that the situation is changing rapidly and that he would issue updates as needed.

The archdiocese, which has been in dialogue with the Louisville Department of Health and Wellness this week, suspended distribution of the Eucharist through the chalice March 9 and urged parishes to identify ways to share the sign of peace without physical contact.

Archbishop Kurtz, in a letter sent to parish leaders March 9, also encouraged parishes to heed Mayor Greg Fischer’s request that houses of worship be regularly cleaned.

With the spread of COVID-19 (the 2019 coronavirus disease), the archdiocese had previously reminded parishioners and ministers to use good handwashing techniques, particularly before and after serving as eucharistic ministers during Mass.

Following are instructions outlined in the March 9 letter:

  • Priests, deacons, ministers of Holy Communion, and altar servers must always wash their hands before Mass begins, and they should use an alcohol-based anti-bacterial solution of at least 60% alcohol before and after distributing Holy Communion.
  • Ensure that all vessels used at Mass, once purified, are thoroughly washed with soap and hot water after each use.
  • Parishes should determine and communicate ways to share the sign of peace that does not involve physical contact.

In his letter, Archbishop Kurtz also asked parish leaders to consider options for parishioners with celiac disease or sensitivity who cannot receive the Eucharist through the host.

Catholic and public schools in the archdiocese remained on a normal schedule March 9, but a letter sent to Catholic school parents said if conditions change, “we will adjust our recommendations and practices accordingly.”

All parishioners and students are asked to stay home if they have symptoms of respiratory illness.

As an alternative to attending Mass, Catholics may watch the Mass of the Air. It is broadcast:

  • 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. on the Faith Channel (Spectrum channel 19) and streamed on the Faith Channel at
  • 10:30 a.m. on WHAS-TV (channel 11) and under the “Live Video” tab.
  •  9 a.m. on WBKI-TV (Spectrum Channel 7).
  • 10 a.m. on WNKY-TV (channel 40), Bowling Green, Ky.

This story was updated March 11 at 6:30 p.m.

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