To the Clergy,Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Baton Rouge
In order to promote safety and health in public worship and to assist in alleviating undue anxiety among the faithful, especially the elderly and vulnerable, it is prudent to give an update about the coronavirus and how our community's response to its threat continues to evolve.
Governor Edwards today (March 13, 2020) issued a proclamationasking people to refrain from gatherings of more than 250 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is our desire to cooperate with his order to continue to preserve peoples' health and well-being. It is also our desire to try to maintain as best we can our Sunday and daily Mass schedules while allowingour parishioners the freedom to make guilt-free decisions as to whether to attend Mass at their parish churches.
- The Catholic faithful ofthe Diocese of Baton Rouge are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass beginning this weekend, March 14/15 until April 13, 2020. I specifically encouragethatthose who are elderly, sick, experiencing symptoms of illness,or whoare at high risk of illness, not attend Mass, for your safety during this time of emergency! This dispensation should be interpreted broadly as possibleto includeall Catholics (even if healthy), especially those who also care for, or regularly come into contact with, those who are high risk, orifyou are concerned or afraid for yourpersonal health, or ifyou are even a little suspicious that you might be sick, or even ifyou believeyou should not attend for the common good. In all these and similar cases do not attend Mass. Further dates may be added to this dispensation if there is a continued State of Emergency or if the threat of spreading the virus remains. We are not currently changing our Sunday and Daily Mass schedules in any of our parishes, but this decision is open to changeby me from week to week.
- Parishes are encouraged to discontinue all unnecessarygatherings of parishioners and to consider cancelling large social events like parish festivals, missions and seated meals.
- Pursuant to the Governorof Louisiana's order closing public schools in the State Louisiana beginning March 16 until April 13, we have decided that all Catholic schools in the Diocese of Baton Rouge follow the same school closure schedulein light of the Governor's directive. Again, further directives may be issued as warranted.
The previous publishedguidelines still remain in effect:
- Distribution of Communion under the species of bread alone.We receive the totality of Christ when we receivethe sacred host. The distribution of communion from the chalice could be a high risk for contamination, and thus it has been discontinued except for priests and deacons.
- The invitation to receive communion on the hand. This measure is to protect ministers and recipients; reception on the tongue could inadvertently contaminate the hands of those distributing communion.
- Eliminating the exchange of the physical sign of peace and om1ttmg the spontaneousgesture of handholding during the Our Father in an effort to minimize physical contact.
In conclusion, I want to emphasizethat we should not experience any pangs of conscience as we adjust to these changes over the next few weeks. I am well aware that this is a hard time in the lives of our Catholic faithful and for our many brothers and sisters who, though not of our faith, like us observe the Holy Season of Lent. Perhapswe can embracethe sacrificeswe are now experiencingand join them to our other Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We pray we will be able to celebrate an Easter season free of the threat that is not only disruptingour worship routines but causing great suffering in so many peoples'lives.
In Christ our Hope,
Most Reverend Michael Gerard Duca Bishop of Baton Rouge
At the Chancery
March 13, 2020