Abilene Catholic Churches will not have public Masses through at least Easter

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Sacred Heart Catholic Church (left) and St. Vincent Pallotti Catholic Church (right) / Photos by Travis Ruiz (KTAB/KRBC)

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — Public Masses or church services will not happen through at least Easter Sunday for all Abilene-area Catholic Churches, according to a new announcement from the Diocese of San Angelo.

The Diocese said all Masses, including Sunday Masses, daily Masses, Palm Sunday Masses, the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum and Easter Masses will be celebrated without the public. Officials said this will continue until further notice.

Catholics in the Diocese of San Angelo remain dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays, until further notice, the Diocese said.

The Diocese of San Angelo is the parent church for most Catholic churches in the Big Country

“As we face the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation changes every day, and all of us must continually discern the most prudent actions as this worldwide health crisis reaches our own towns, friends, and families.,” said Diocese of San Angelo Bishop Michael J. Sis. “The parishes and people of the Diocese of San Angelo have shown tremendous zeal and creativity in providing opportunities for people to participate as fully as possible in the prayer life of the Church within the parameters of public health authorities.”

Also announced, all parking lot Masses are now discontinued. At least one Abilene Catholic Church held a parking lot Mass last weekend.

“Many people have been extremely grateful for these opportunities to receive Holy Communion while following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control,” the Bishop said. “Unfortunately, however, they have become so popular that they have been drawing many people out of their homes at a time when our state and local government officials are asking all citizens to do whatever they can to encourage people to stay at home.”

Many churches are expected to offer Sunday Mass in a live streaming format. The Diocese will also make a Sunday Mass available in both English and Spanish.

Full statement from Bishop Sis
As we face the increasing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation changes every day, and all of us must continually discern the most prudent actions as this worldwide health crisis reaches our own towns, friends, and families.
The parishes and people of the Diocese of San Angelo have shown tremendous zeal and creativity in providing opportunities for people to participate as fully as possible in the prayer life of the Church within the parameters of public health authorities.
However, in the light of the most recent developments of the Coronavirus in Texas, it is now necessary for us to make further restrictions in our practices, in order to promote public health and to limit the spread of this disease.
Parking Lot Masses:Effective immediately, and until further notice, it is my sad duty to announce that we must discontinue the “parking lot Masses,” “outdoor car Masses,” and Masses in outdoor facilities.  All Catholic Masses in the Diocese of San Angelo are to be celebrated without an assembly, whether indoors or outdoors, including people gathered in cars.  The practice of distributing Holy Communion outside the church after Masses without an assembly is also to be discontinued.
Many people have been extremely grateful for these opportunities to receive Holy Communion while following the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control. Unfortunately, however, they have become so popular that they have been drawing many people out of their homes at a time when our state and local government officials are asking all citizens to do whatever they can to encourage people to stay at home.
Suspension of Public Masses:Moving forward, Sunday Masses, daily Masses, Palm Sunday Masses, the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum, and Easter Sunday Masses will be celebrated without an assembly.  The number of ministers assisting to carry out these Masses must be ten or fewer in the same room at the same time.  This practice will continue until further notice.
Dispensation:Catholics in the Diocese of San Angelo are still dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays, until further notice.
Alternatives for Spiritual Nourishment:Rather than attending Mass, Catholics are encouraged during this time period to pray at home, meditate on the Scripture readings of the day, and enjoy the many opportunities for the broadcast of the Mass through television, radio, or online.  A list of stations and sites, as well as a variety of spiritual resources, can be found on the website of the diocese at www.sanangelodiocese.org.
Whenever possible, churches will be kept open during the daytime for private prayer and Eucharistic Adoration, with careful observance of church and civil guidelines for sanitizing and social distancing.
Access to the Mass:Insofar as they are able, parishes are encouraged to use social media, television, or radio to broadcast their Masses, so members can prayerfully unite themselves to the liturgy in their homes.
Some livestream services that have proven useful include, among others, the following: 

  • Facebook
  • Vimeo (allows for simultaneous livestreaming to parish website and Facebook)
  • Twitch (allows for simultaneous livestreaming to parish website and Facebook)

The Diocese of San Angelo will make Sunday Mass available online in English and Spanish.  Missalettes for home use are available free of charge online from a variety of organizations, including Magnificat and Our Sunday Visitor.
Spiritual Communion:All are encouraged to make a prayer of Spiritual Communion.  A text for this prayer is found at www.sanangelodiocese.org.
Palm Sunday:Palms are not to be distributed from Palm Sunday, to reduce the risk of the transmission of disease.  Some parishes may be able to store them successfully for distribution at a later date after the current medical state of emergency has passed.
Reception of Communion:On those rare occasions when someone receives the Eucharist during these temporary emergency measures (such as in a sick call situation), Communion should be received in the hand, in such a way that the minister’s hand does not touch the hand of the communicant.  This temporary measure is in service of the common good (canon 223).Careful handwashing should be practiced.
Sacrament of Reconciliation:Priests are to make times available for individual Confessions.             In the present pandemic emergency, the individual celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation should not take place in the confined space of the confessional room.In a small room, there is not enough air circulation to mitigate the risk of contamination by airborne pathogens.  
Instead, individual Confession should take place in a larger, ventilated space indoors, or outdoors.   For example, if the church is large, Confessions could take place in the body of the church, or perhaps in a gymnasium or parish hall.  Parishes are to follow all church and civil guidelines for sanitizing and social distancing.
Those who have no recourse to sacramental absolution:When a person finds it impossible to receive sacramental absolution, they obtain forgiveness of sins, even mortal ones, through a sincere request for forgiveness, coming from a love of God, with perfect contrition and the firm resolution to make a sacramental Confession as soon as possible (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1452).
Funerals:According to the declaration by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, the number of people who are allowed to be physically present for funerals must be limited to 10 or fewer.  Later, when the Coronavirus crisis has passed, Memorial Masses or Memorial Services could be offered for the deceased.
Many parishes have found that a good solution to this dilemma is for someone to livestream the funeral through a service like Facebook, so that a larger number of people can watch it remotely.
Church Gatherings:Any church activities involving gatherings of more than 10 people in the same place at the same time are to be cancelled or held virtually until further notice.
Some options that facilitate virtual meetings are Skype and Google, and Techsoup is an online resource where nonprofits can purchase usually expensive software (like Zoom) at a discount. This may be a valuable resource for our parishes moving forward: https://www.techsoup.org/.
Conclusion:We are all very grateful to all our priests, deacons, and other parish leaders, as they seek to do everything they possibly can to minister to the people entrusted to their care.  We must continue to seek ways to provide effective spiritual guidance to our people in these painful times, while also protecting people as much as possible from the danger of the Coronavirus.
This is a time for prudence, but not for panic.  We must be vigilant, but not fearful.  The Easter mystery assures us that life will overcome death.   This Coronavirus will eventually be overcome. As Christian believers, we say with St. Paul: “We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5).
This notice presents a revision of the practices outlined in my previous communications regarding the Coronavirus.   Other developments and subsequent instructions will come in the future, since the present situation is fluid and could change from day to day.

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