Priests get directives on Mass, sacraments during this ‘difficult moment in history’

Priests of the Diocese of Peoria are shown at last May's Mass of Ordination for Father Daniel McShane at St. Mary's Cathedral. (The Catholic Post file/Tom Dermody)

“I suspect that we shall remember these times for the rest of our lives.”

So wrote Msgr. Philip D. Halfacre, vicar general, in a letter to priests of the Diocese of Peoria after Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, suspended all Masses March 13 because of coronavirus concerns.

The letter to priests included a series of directives on pastoral care and the administration of the sacraments to help priests serve their people with “prudence and appropriate caution at this difficult moment in history.”

Msgr. Halfacre

The directives offer guidance not only on the celebration of Mass but also funerals, weddings, baptisms, confirmation, anointing of and Communion for the sick, confession, keeping churches open, and parish events and activities.

The March 13 directives are in effect until further notice, though Msgr. Halfacre noted “additional ones will surely follow.” The full list of directives are printed below and also appear, along with the full letters from Bishop Jenky and Msgr. Halfacre, on the homepage of the Diocese of Peoria, cdop.org, where they will be updated regularly.

“We are all in this together, as brother priests to one another and as spiritual fathers to the people we serve,” wrote Msgr. Halfacre, who was appointed vicar general last October and also serves as pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Streator.

“We realize that our decisions regarding sacred worship will greatly disturb people’s lives,” he continued. “Nevertheless, our efforts are aimed at protecting those entrusted to our care – especially the most vulnerable among us, such as the elderly and those who are in delicate or compromised health.”

Following are the directives in effect for the Diocese of Peoria as of March 13:

THE CELEBRATION OF HOLY MASS

  • Masses are suspended beginning with the evening Mass on 14 March.
  • Specifically, it is the Mass coram populo (in the presence of the people) that is suspended.
  • Priests are very much encouraged to continue offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. One or two servers may be present.

FUNERALS

  • We will not be celebrating funerals during this period though we will bury the dead.
  • It is permitted to perform the Rite of Committal outdoors — not in a chapel — at the graveside.
  • The suspension extends as well to the Funeral Liturgy Outside of Mass that is often done at the funeral home.
  • Naturally, we encourage the celebration of a memorial Mass once the suspension is lifted.

WEDDINGS

  • During this time, priests may witness a marriage with only the five canonically required persons being present. Namely, the bride and groom, the priest, and two witnesses.

BAPTISMS

  • Baptisms may take place, but only with the parents, godparents, and the one being baptized being present.
  • They should be limited to one family at a time rather than multiple families as is often the case in large parishes.

CONFIRMATION

  • Contrary to an earlier communication, except for those who wish to be confirmed who are in danger of death, the celebration of the Sacrament of Confirmation is suspended.

ANOINTING OF THE SICK

  • Priests, using the greatest prudence, may continue to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.
  • It is of greatest importance that priests be diligent about not contaminating their oil stock by reinserting their thumb without first thoroughly washing their hands.
  • In the case of those who are known to have the Coronavirus, further directives should be sought from the Vicar General or the Episcopal Vicar for Healthcare.

HOLY COMMUNION TO THE SICK

  • The widespread practice of having Holy Communion brought to the sick by Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion is suspended — except in the cases where it is occasionally done by a member of the immediate family.
  • Priests and Deacons may bring Holy Communion to the sick, exercising the greatest prudence when doing so.
  • In the case of those who are known to have the Coronavirus, further directives should be sought from the Vicar General or the Episcopal Vicar for Healthcare.

CONFESSION/RECONCILIATION

  • Priests may continue to hear confessions.
  • It is advised that confessions be heard utilizing a screen rather than face-to-face confession. See the directive below on the keeping of our churches open.
  • Times for confessions could be scheduled and posted.

KEEPING CHURCHES OPEN

  • During this difficult time, pastors are encouraged to have times during the day when their churches are open to the public so that they may take comfort and solace in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Priests are encouraged to offer Confessions at some point during these times.
  • Mindful that we are making every attempt to avoid gatherings of people, we are suspending public devotions during this time.
  • In places where Perpetual Adoration is held, chapels may remain open for the present but the Pastor must be vigilant in not permitting Our Lord to be unattended.
  • Having hand sanitizer available for those who enter our churches is strongly advised.
  • As was previous directed, all holy water fonts are to be emptied.

PARISH EVENTS AND ACTIVITIES

  • Parish events and activities of any kind are suspended.

PARISH OFFICES

  • Parish offices should operate on a limited basis with only essential staff present. The presence of volunteers is strongly discouraged during this time. A system should be in place to retrieve phone messages.
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