Archdiocese of Toronto cancels weekend Masses in wake of COVID-19

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TORONTO, Canada (The Catholic Register) – The Archdiocese of Toronto, Canada’s largest diocese, has cancelled all weekend Masses after Ontario’s chief medical officer urged all public gatherings be limited to a maximum of 250 people.

The decision, coming amid a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases in Ontario, will affect more than 200 parishes stretching from Toronto to Midland, an area with more than two million Catholics.

The announcement came in a March 13 statement from Cardinal Thomas Collins as dioceses across the country responded to the COVID-19 pandemic

“We will assess the situation for next weekend and any other that is required after consulting health officials,” the statement said.

“For this weekend and any other which may be required, I grant the faithful dispensation from their Sunday obligation. Churches should remain open for private prayer and Eucharistic Adoration.”

The statement said the decision was made “in light of the present situation unfolding” regarding the COVID-19 situation worldwide.

“Our primary concern is the spiritual and physical health and welfare of the faithful and all those who serve at our parishes, recognizing that we have a duty to care for the community at large and the most vulnerable among us,” the statement said.

As of March 13, there were 79 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, an increase of 19 cases since the previous day.

In Vancouver, the Archdiocese of Vancouver responded to a similar call from the BC government to cancel all events with more than 250 people by urging pastors to find creative ways to restrict attendance at Masses.

The announcement came one day after the bishops of Quebec cancelled all weekend Masses until further notice after the Quebec government introduced measures to limit public gatherings to under 250 people.

In Edmonton, Archbishop Richard Smith is in self-isolation on the recommendation of his doctor, after experiencing the symptoms of a cold. He said he doesn’t feel seriously ill, but he is self-isolating as a precaution.

In a March 13 letter Archbishop J. Michael Miller calls for “creativity and compassion” from pastors and parish staff in finding ways to limit each Mass to 250 people. He also encourages people over the age of 65, those who “feel even remotely unwell,” or those believe they might be at risk to stay home.

The measures are temporary “in order to get us through these challenging times,” he writes and asks for prayer for members of the community who are especially vulnerable to the virus and for those who have died of COVID-19 and their families.

The BC government announced Thursday that all event organizers are required to cancel events with more than 250 people.

Earlier in the week, Archbishop Miller released a memo discouraging reception of Holy Communion on the tongue following a teleconference with government officials March 11 to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.

Archbishop Miller said, “As a result of direct consultation with the Public Health Officer, the faithful are strongly recommended to receive Holy Communion only in the hand.”

The archbishop acknowledged the right of the faithful to receive Communion on the tongue and said an announcement is to be made at Masses stating “those who wish to receive Communion on the tongue should come forward after all other communicants have received.”

Alternatively, one priest, deacon or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion can be designated specifically to distribute Communion only on the tongue.

The archbishop’s memo was issued after a joint phone call between BC faith leaders and Premier John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Public Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry to discuss the COVID-19 outbreak.

The memo said the measures being announced are temporary but effective immediately.

In a March 12 message to pastors and staff, the Archdiocese of Edmonton said Archbishop Smith was advised to self-isolate until he gets tested for the COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus.

His self-isolation came just a day after he called for preventive measures during Mass, including keeping all holy water fonts empty, refraining from handshakes during the Sign of Peace, and not distributing the consecrated wine as part of Holy Communion.

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