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March 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Catholic shepherds around the world have not only stopped public Masses, but some have even closed churches because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, churches and other places of worship have been forced to close by state authority while wine and beer stores, cannabis stores, and other so-called “essential services” have been allowed to remain open. 

By March 20, every diocese of the United States had suspended public Masses. 

Public Masses have also been suspended across Canada, from the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Newfoundland in the east to the Diocese of Victoria in the west. 

Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, ordered all the churches and chapels in his archdiocese to be closed to reflect “increased restrictions” by the government. 

“In order to assist in limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we have already cancelled the public celebration of the sacraments, including the Eucharist. In view of the increased restrictions on public activity, I am now asking you to close your church and any chapel, even for individual prayer, effective immediately,” he said. 

In Mexico, bishops have recommended the suspension of all public Masses, and this has already been done in the Diocese of Jalisco and today in the Archdiocese of Mexico City. 

Nicaragua has also suspended public Masses. In Brazil, 36 archdioceses, 113 dioceses, five prelatures, and the personal apostolic administration of St. John Mary Vianney have suspended public worship, whereas a small minority of dioceses are still offering public Masses. In Argentina, the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires has suspended public worship. 

The situation is even more dire in the United Kingdom, where not only have all public Masses been suspended, churches have been locked and shut so that the faithful cannot go into them for private prayer. The United Kingdom is now in a state of “lockdown,” with its population of over 66 million forbidden to leave their homes except for essential work, necessary shopping, medical business, or exercise outdoors. In the Republic of Ireland, all public Masses were suspended by St. Patrick’s Day.  

On the European continent, the bishops of France have suspended all public Masses, although the civil authorities have not banned all religious gatherings. In France, people are allowed to visit a church as long as no more than 20 are there at once. The Society of St. Pius X, a fraternity of priests with irregular canonical status, is continuing to allow congregations of up to 20 people to assist at their liturgies. In Spain, 59 of 70 dioceses had suspended public worship by March 16. In Portugal, the bishops suspended all public Masses 10 days ago

In Holland, there are still public weekday Masses to be found, with the stipulation that worshippers maintain a distance of 1.5 meters (approximately 4 feet, 9 inches). However, Saturday evening Masses and Sunday Masses are closed to the faithful and Holy Week ceremonies will be held behind closed doors.

In Belgium, there will be no public Masses until April 3 at the earliest. In Germany, the bishops conference has instructed each diocese to act according to local state instructions, and most dioceses have suspended public worship. In Austria, public worship, though not forbidden by the state, has been suspended. In Switzerland, the state has forbidden public worship, and public Masses have been suspended by the bishops.   

In Italy, all public Masses are officially suspended, although a public Mass for Laetare Sunday was filmed within St. Peter’s Basilica itself this week. In Malta, all public Masses are suspended. Public worship has also been suspended in Hungary. 

In Poland, there are still public Masses, as long as congregations are limited to 20 people, but the Polish government requested today that congregations be reduced to five people. In Estonia, all public Masses have been suspended. In Russia, public Masses have been suspended in Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, public worship continues in the Saratov diocese, in southwestern Russia, in the Novosibirsk diocese in western Siberia, and in the Irkutsk diocese in eastern Siberia with dispensations for the sick and the rest of the faithful counselled to be prudent in their worship.    

In Asia, public Masses are suspended in Singapore, Malaysia, and in parts of the Philippines. In India, public Masses were suspended in Mumbai after a lawsuit by a lawyer. Today, India is reportedly ordering its people into “lockdown” at midnight after a spike in coronavirus cases. At least some dioceses have suspended public Masses in Japan.

The bishops of New Zealand have suspended all public Masses, as have several bishops in Australia.  

Bishops’ conferences, dioceses and even individual priests around the world are seeking to minister to the faithful by broadcasting and/or live-streaming their private or semi-private Masses. In addition, many bishops are encouraging their priests to give Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Reconciliation to individual parishioners while taking precautions to keep both the faithful and themselves from disease. Funerals are also being permitted albeit with small congregations or even limited to immediate family. In many places, churches are being left open so that the faithful can pray privately in them. 

In their statement about new restrictions on public worship because of the pandemic,  the Austrian Bishops Conference wrote in defense of churches remaining open.  

“Parish churches should, if possible, be kept open as places of hope — also in times of restrictions with regard to leaving the home,” they wrote.  

“They are available for all people for individual prayers and thus are part of the provision of spiritual welfare, for the good of the entire population.”

With files from LifeSiteNews’ Matthew Hoffman, Maike Hickson, and Jeanne Smits