Wisconsin's Catholic leaders cancel celebration of public Mass amid COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

Wisconsin's Catholic leaders cancel celebration of public Mass amid COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic

Bishop Donald Hying (copy)

Madison Catholic Diocese Bishop Donald Hying canceled the public celebration of Mass on Monday due to the coronavirus outbreak.

With local Catholics in the midst of Lent, the Diocese of Madison on Monday canceled the public celebration of Mass amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The restriction applies to both Sunday and weekday Masses at all parish churches, oratories and chapels and will remain in place until April 3, or nine days before Easter, Madison Diocese Bishop Donald Hying said in a statement. All other Wisconsin dioceses — in La Crosse, Green Bay and Superior — and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are also canceling public Mass beginning either Tuesday or Wednesday, according to Madison Diocese spokesman Brent King.

The moves come after Gov. Tony Evers on Monday banned public gatherings of more than 50 people. On Monday afternoon, the state Department of Heath Services banned gatherings of more than 10 people beginning at 5 p.m. Church services are not among the events exempted from the order.

Hying acknowledged in a statement that "in times of public crisis, people naturally turn to the Church for spiritual support and direction, and we need to continue to do whatever we can to support our faithful people."

"However," he said, "taking precautionary measures is a prudent course of action given the civil directives and the underlying health concerns."

Hying is asking priests to continue celebrating Mass — as required by Roman Catholic law — but to do it privately, and to keep churches open, where possible, for private prayer.

Liturgies for weddings, funerals and baptisms should still be celebrated, Hying said, "but priests will need to work with families to limit attendance at these events to fewer than 50 people and to take other necessary health precautions." He said confession should be limited to individuals.

Face-to-face instruction in Catholic schools, religious education programs and all "non-essential" parish events, including Friday fish fries — which are especially popular doing Lent — should be canceled, he said.

He said all of the restrictions will be reevaluated on March 31. 

King said he didn't think canceling public celebration of Mass had ever happened before in the Madison Diocese.

"Snow storms often mean that people are not obliged to attend, but Mass goes on and the few that can, make it," he said.

It was only Friday that the coronavirus outbreak spurred Hying to relieve parishioners from the obligation to attend weekly Mass, especially for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

Photos: A look at how the novel coronavirus is affecting Wisconsin

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