Catholics throughout the Diocese of Rochester’s 12 counties should expect to see several changes in the way they receive the sacraments in the next few weeks, according to a March 17 statement from Bishop Salvatore R. Matano.
Among the changes are cancellation of the diocesanwide Day of Penance and Mercy, which had been scheduled to take place April 1, and the likelihood that diocesan Holy Week ceremonies, including the Chrism Mass, will be celebrated without the presence of the faithful.
Priests should continue to make themselves available for sacramental ministry, especially in sacramental emergencies, but also must take the public-health precautions necessary to prevent them from contracting COVID-19 or unknowingly communicating the virus to those under their pastoral care, the bishop stated.
“Prudence and caution are the guiding principles, while never failing to pray for the sick at the daily, non-public Masses,” Bishop Matano stated.
The March 17 statement comes on the heels of the previous day’s statement, in which he announced the cancellation of all public Masses within the Diocese of Rochester’s 12 counties. Bishop Matano has asked all diocesan priests to continue celebrating daily Mass without the presence of the faithful “in order to offer the Church’s most perfect prayer, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for all entrusted to their pastoral care,” Bishop Matano said.
At the time of Bishop Matano’s initial suspension of Masses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House were recommending that public gatherings be limited to no more than 50 attendees. Since that time, however, they have revised their recommendation, now advising that gatherings be restricted to no more than 10 participants. In light of this recommendation, several temporary changes will be made to the way sacraments are celebrated locally.
Among these changes are the likely rescheduling of confirmation celebrations throughout the diocese and the suspension of the parish scrutinies for those going through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
“It is realistic to expect that the Holy Week ceremonies will be celebrated without the faithful present and the conferral of sacraments at the Easter Vigil will take place at a later date. More information will follow, particularly how the sacraments of initiation can be administered in a timely and safe manner,” Bishop Matano stated.
It is likely that the Chrism Mass, during which oils are blessed and consecrated for use throughout the diocese, will occur without the presence of the faithful, according to the statement. Information about an online livestreaming of this ceremony, which traditionally takes place on the Tuesday of Holy Week, will be forthcoming.
Attendance at baptisms now is temporarily limited to parents and godparents and may not exceed 10 people, and baptismal fonts must be cleaned before and after each celebration. Weddings and funerals may be celebrated but no more than 50 people may be in attendance, and further restrictions may change this guideline in the future.
Priests may continue to offer the sacrament of confession, which Bishop Matano said is “a great comfort in times of uncertainty,” but priests may only use those spaces that have a screen with a cloth separating the priest and the penitent to prevent airflow. Confessions must be made individually and never via telephone or social media.
Pastoral care, including the administration of the anointing of the sick, to those in hospitals, nursing homes and health-care facilities will be governed by protocols set by health professionals, and anointing of the sick in private residences should proceed with caution. Because of the high risk of contagion, priests are permitted to use single-use cotton balls instead of their hands to do the actual anointing, according to the statement.
Also among the new guidelines:
‚Ä¢ Churches will remain open for private prayer as feasible at the discretion of the pastor or administrator and pending further regulations.
‚Ä¢ Regularly scheduled adoration of the Blessed Sacrament may continue in spaces large enough to maintain the recommended six feet of distance between adorers.
‚Ä¢ Pastoral visits to shut-ins may be conducted over the phone so asymptomatic visitors don’t inadvertently expose others to the virus. Priests may continue to offer sacraments to shut-ins but should take extra sanitary precautions.
‚Ä¢ Access to the diocesan Pastoral Center in Gates is restricted to employees.
“I look forward to this opportunity to offer Mass for the faithful. I hope you are able to access the site, allowing us to pray the Church’s most perfect prayer as a diocesan family,” Bishop Matano said.