VATICAN CITY — One by one, episcopates around the world are instructing their priests to suspend public Masses as fears over the COVID-19 spread in tandem with government directives limiting social gatherings.
At least one diocese in the United States has gone so far as closing all of its churches, while an appeal has been launched in Rome to restart public celebrations of the Eucharist.
The decision has spread far and wide: After Hong Kong and Seoul canceled Masses in February, Italy’s bishops followed suit on March 8, giving a dispensation from the Sunday obligation. Italy has the second-highest number of mortalities from the virus after China, with 2,503 deaths as of March 17.
The Italian episcopate’s decision, taken on the same day as a government decree banning all civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals, is to last at least until April 3. Like most dioceses, the ruling was based partly on reports of the virus’ highly contagious nature, it’s relatively high mortality rate, and that people can be carriers without realizing it. …