By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator  

Cancellation of Masses, fairs and other church events are just a few of the many ways the Diocese of Baton Rouge is adjusting to the threat posed by the coronavirus.  

 

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Newlyweds Diego Fernandes and Deni Salgado kiss through protective face masks during their wedding ceremony with only witnesses and no guests in Naples, Italy, March 20. Public gatherings are banned as part of Italy’s lockdown measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a “stay home” statewide mandate that was scheduled to take effect March 23. CNS photo 

 

In a statement released March 17, Bishop Michael G. Duca announced effective that day public Masses were to be suspended, although priests are allowed to celebrate the liturgy privately. The announcement came one week after the bishop announced he was suspending the Sunday Mass obligation for Catholics as long as the coronavirus threat persists.   

Also in the March 17 statement, Bishop Duca announced that pastors were to cancel all unnecessary gatherings of parishioners for March and April, including “large social events like parish festivals, seated meals, processions and indeed any parish function where more than 10 people would be required to gather in a refined space.”  

All communal penance services are cancelled, and regularly scheduled and advertised times of reconciliation should be suspended until further notice, the bishop said. Additionally, all holy water fonts should be drained until further notice.  

Church parishes were asked to limit baptisms to private and small family celebrations, and that fresh water should be used for baptisms and drained immediately thereafter.  

The statement also mandated that funerals are to be celebrated with immediate family (parents, spouses, siblings, children and grandchildren), clergy and funeral staff present. Additionally, funeral Masses and services in the church are not allowed.  

The bishop also limited attendance at weddings, and that Mass should not be celebrated. He also set guidelines for clergy members for administering the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to individuals who are hospitalized. 

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“After Easter I will make a further determination regarding extending or retracting any of the above provisions based upon the current situation in our community with the coronavirus,” Bishop Duca said. 

“I do not make these decisions lightly,” he added. “In consultations with leaders in our diocese and for the sake of the safety of those to whom we minister, precaution is necessary to slow the spread of this pandemic. Know that I remember all of you in prayer during this difficult time. We join our sacrifices to others throughout our country during these trying times.”  

The bishop’s statement was released five days before Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statewide “stay at home order” that was scheduled to take effect March 23 and remain in place until April 12. The order requires state residents to stay at home unless going out for essential tasks.  

According to a University of Louisiana at Lafayette study, Louisiana has the fastest growth rate of coronavirus in the world and ranks third in per capita cases in the country.