By Tony DeGol
As part of a continuing effort to protect the health and safety of parishioners, clergy, and staff, Bishop Mark L. Bartchak has issued new directives, which include closing all church buildings to the public and prohibiting outdoor activities on parish properties until further notice.
Since the Bishop suspended public Masses on March 17, churches in the diocese were open for private prayer from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., per the Bishop’s earlier directive. Bishop Bartchak has now instructed parishes that all church doors should be locked effective immediately.
The directives are as follows:
· Beginning with the closure of churches at 7:00 p.m. on April 1, doors are to remain closed, that is completely locked, at all times. All churches will remain closed until further notice.
· All pastoral activities outdoors on parish property or in other locations are not permitted until further notice. Any such activities previously planned must be cancelled.
· Outdoor services such as Masses, prayer services, or confessions are not permitted on parish property and are not to occur at any other locations, with due regard for funerals.
· Parishes are not to have any celebration, blessing, or distribution of palms, and are not to have any other blessings traditionally celebrated in anticipation of Easter, including, for example, the blessing of food baskets.
· Funeral services may be celebrated in accord with the limits on attendance, after consultation with the funeral director, keeping in mind the opportunity for Memorial Masses at a later date.
· Clergy should contact those who have weddings scheduled during the coming months. In order to assist them, they are encouraged to have the wedding celebrated in church with just a small group (10 or less). In such cases, it is not likely that they will be having a wedding reception, since most venues will be closed. In the future, they could schedule a “reception” and could come to the church to renew their vows according to the rite provided for in the Marriage Ritual for anniversaries.
Bishop Bartchak considers the latest directives necessary and appropriate to minimize social interaction and to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The directives come on a day when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a state-wide Stay at Home order, which means residents should stay at home and not go out unless it is necessary. The governor’s action comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Pennsylvania continues to increase, and the state death toll continues to climb.
The faithful are invited to watch the televised Mass with Bishop Bartchak every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. on WATM ABC 23 and every Sunday at 9:00 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband channel 9. The liturgies are posted on the diocesan website and Facebook and Twitter social media platforms. Daily Mass from Prince of Peace Parish in Northern Cambria is streamed on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown Facebook page. The daily Mass schedule is Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8:00 a.m.; Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m.; and Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. Spiritual resources are available on the diocesan website.