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Seattle Archbishop Paul Etienne in a March 11, 2020 video message.

SEATTLE, Washington, March 12, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Archbishop Paul Etienne has ordered all parishes of the Archdiocese of Seattle to suspend public celebration of Mass following an emergency declaration by Washington Governor Jay Inslee.

Inslee announced on Wednesday: “Starting today, events that take place in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties with more than 250 people are prohibited by the state. This order applies to gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational activities. These include but are not limited to: community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based, or sporting events; parades; concerts; festivals; conventions; fundraisers and similar activities.”

Archbishop Etienne said that the announcement “certainly speaks to us as an institution of faith.”

“I want to acknowledge the best science that is out there, that basically says despite our best efforts, this epidemic is going to continue to spread,” Etienne said in a short video. “That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be doing everything we possibly can to restrict the spread of this virus, and of this epidemic.”

Poland’s bishops, however, have called for more Masses as a response to the coronavirus epidemic. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, writing as the leader of the Polish bishops’ conference, released a statement this week asking that the extra Masses be made available so that the congregations will be smaller. 

“Acknowledging the recommendation of the Chief Sanitary Inspector that there not be large gatherings of people, I’m asking for the increase – insofar as this is possible – in the number of Sunday Masses in the churches, so that at any one time the number of faithful participating in the liturgies are according to the sanitary regulation,”Gądecki wrote.  

The Polish archbishop of Poznań declared that it was “unimaginable” for Polish Catholics not to pray in their churches. 

“In the current situation, I wish to remind you that just as hospitals treat diseases of the body, so the Church serves to, among other things, treat illness of the soul; that is why it is unimaginable that we not pray in our churches,” he wrote. 

Archbishop Etienne characterized his decision as an extreme cautionary measure. “There may be other measures that will be introduced,” he warned.

“We want to do our part to prevent the spread of this virus, of this epidemic,” Etienne said.

While public Masses are suspended, “every priest has an obligation to celebrate the Eucharist every day and certainly I want our priests to continue to do that,” the archbishop clarified. “And I want all of us to continue to pray for our efforts and the efforts of so many others to care for the sick and to slow down the spread of this virus.” 

Just days ago, archbishop Etienne had banned the reception of communion on the tongue. While claiming not to refuse Communion to anyone, he stated that “to do our part to contain the spread of a new virus, while at the national epicenter of the outbreak, we are limiting the option at this time to receive Communion in the hand.”

“People are free to either receive Communion under this new temporary guideline or not,” the archbishop said.

Meanwhile, south of Seattle, the archdiocese of Portland, Oregon, declared that “a parish cannot ban the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue.”

The archdiocese, whose head is archbishop Alexander Sample, had consulted two doctors on the question of the manner of receiving Holy Communion. Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus, countless bishops and bishops’ conferences had recommended, if not mandated, to receive the Eucharist in the hand.

The doctors “agreed that done properly the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue or in the hand pose a more or less equal risk.”

“The risk of touching the tongue and passing the saliva on to others is obviously a danger however the chance of touching someone’s hand is equally probable and one’s hands have a greater exposure to germs,” the statement of the archdiocese pointed out.

In addition to suspending all public Masses, the archdiocese of Washington has also decided to close all Catholic schools within the Seattle Public School District until the end of the month.

“We recognize the hardship this places on families; at the same time, we must protect the common good. Our government leaders urge us to take these steps to slow the spread of this global pandemic. Our Catholic faith compels us to consider and protect those most vulnerable in our society,” explained Kristin Dixon, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools.

At the time of this writing, the state of Washington reported 366 cases of coronavirus. Almost 3,500 people were tested. 29 cases resulted in death.

Italian historian Roberto de Mattei has described how Pope St. Gregory the Great responded to a deadly plague during his pontificate. After his election in the year 590, Gregory led a penitential procession of the faithful throughout Rome.

“While the multitude traversed the city, in sepulchral silence, the pestilence reached such a point of fury, that in the brief space of an hour, eighty people fell dead to the ground. However, Gregory didn’t cease for a second in exhorting the people to continue praying and insisted that the picture of the Virgin painted by St. Luke and kept in Santa Maria Maggiore, be brought to the front of the procession,” de Mattei recounted.

The plague of the 6th century was seen as a punishment. After the procession, Gregory saw how angels settled themselves in a circle around Our Lady’s picture, and, raising his eyes, he “saw at the top of the castle an angel, who, after drying his sword dripping with blood, put it back in its sheath, as a sign that the punishment was over.”

Editor’s note: With files from Dorothy Cummings McLean.