Seattle archdiocese suspends all public Masses amid coronavirus pandemic

“Out of an extreme caution, we want to do our part to prevent the spread of this virus,” Archbishop Paul Etienne said in a video released Wednesday afternoon.

Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Seattle gives the homily as he concelebrates Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome Feb. 7, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Archdiocese of Seattle will indefinitely suspend public Masses in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has left at least 31 dead in Washington, along with 375 people in the state who have tested positive for the virus.

“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, 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,” Archbishop Paul Etienne said in a video released Wednesday afternoon.

“So I am going to ask that all of our parishes in western Washington, in the Archdiocese of Seattle, effective today, suspend the celebration publicly of the Eucharist.”

“As we all know, this is out of an extreme measure of caution,” he added. “Out of an extreme caution, we want to do our part to prevent the spread of this virus.”

The archbishop encouraged Catholics to stay at home if they are ill, to practice good hygiene and social distancing. He also encouraged prayer for medical providers and caretakers.

On March 11, Gov. Jay Inslee banned gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties. King County contains the city of Seattle. 235 people have tested positive for the virus in King County, and 26 have died; many of the sick and deceased were residents of nursing facilities.

Seattle’s public schools have also been closed.

“I want to just encourage you, in a very deeply spiritual way, to pray with confidence, to pray with faith, to pray with hope, that the Lord accompany us during this, and that the Lord protect us as well,” Etienne added in his video message.

The archbishop also mentioned that “every priest has an obligation to celebrate the Eucharist, and I want our priests to continue to do that.”

The first known U.S. case of coronavirus was announced Jan. 21 in Washington. In total, at least 1,209 people in the U.S. have been diagnoses with coronavirus, and at least 37 have died.

The Archdiocese of Seattle is the first U.S. diocese to take such a step. More than half of all Japenese dioceses have suspended the public celebration of the Mass, however, and churches are shuttered in Italy, as the entire country is under strict quarantine regulations.

The Archbishop of Louisville said Wednesday he did not plan to cancel Sunday Masses in his diocese this weekend, despite a request from the governor to do so. Eight people in Kentucky have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and the state has experienced no deaths; while Washington state is the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S.

Responding previously to the virus, on March 3  Etienne “said that holy water should be removed from fonts” and “that Communion hosts should be received only in the hand, not on the tongue.”

The Archdiocese of Seattle added that Communion should be under one species, that the sick should stay home from Mass, and that everyone should practice good hygiene and “avoid hand-to-hand contact during the Our Father and the sign of peace.”

In a March 10 document, issued the day before the suspension of all public Masses, the Seattle archdiocese said that it encourages “every parish community to closely follow the requests of local health authorities.”

It said that health officials in three counties were advising against “larger group gatherings”, i.e. those with more than 10 people.

“Out of protection for the people who are at high-risk and to ensure we are doing our part to slow the spread of the virus for the common good, we recommend postponing any large non-essential ministry gatherings and parish events,” the archdiocese said.

The archdiocese canceled some Catholic school sports games in two counties, but permitted practices to continue. “For this, we rely on the discretion of the principal and pastor to make the decision for their community – given the rapidly changing nature of local public health recommendations,” it added.

In its March 10 policy update, the archdiocese barred the reception of Communion on the tongue, saying that “this requirement is being enacted out of our love and care for the most vulnerable in our midst. It may be important to remind concerned parishioners that the greatest divine law is that we love God and our neighbor. All other laws and individual rights are subordinate to that supreme divine law.”

Regarding the remission of sins, the archdiocese said that “even though we are in a heightened health alert state, the conditions do not yet exist for general absolution. Therefore, we will continue to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on an individual basis only.”

The territory of the Archdiocese of Seattle includes 19 counties in western Washington state.

The archdiocese has not indicated whether schools will be closed. The archdiocese has not yet responded to repeated March 11 requests for comment from CNA.

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12 Comments

  1. Mass should not be looked upon as part of the problem when Mass itself would be the strongest weapon to combat this epidemic. We do not withhold giving someone medicine to fight illness when needed because we ourselves do not want to get sick and so neither should we withhold offering public Mass for fear of spreading the virus. Yes we should be reasonable as well as faithful but we should leave attending Mass to the individual and not cut them off from the Eucharist, that which gives great comfort to faithful. To repeat a recommendation I heard yesterday, instead of cancelling Mass for fear of crowds, add MORE Masses to avoid crowds and allowing more space between the faithful in the church. Cancelling Mass is not the answer by a long shot. Have faith in God to protect us by worshiping the Eucharist safely not by by cancelling Mass.

    • Amen. I do not believe for a second that our Lord would allow anyone to get sick by receiving Him. A bishop said it is an abuse of authority not to allow it. I also believe the hands have far more germs than the tongue. We should not be receiving in the hands anyway. How many particles of the host are on people’s hands and dropped on the floor, how many end up in peoples pockets or wherever the hands go after receiving Him? I spoke to two people in two days who saw particles on their hands after receiving communion. It breaks my heart knowing that the Lord is trampled upon daily.

    • On the other hand, back when Pope Benedict XVI once suggested that Rome might do well if, for one year, it refrained from posing as a paper mill producing tomes that no one actually reads…

      He also conjectured that it might be meritorious for individuals to refrain from actually receiving the Eucharist, from time to time, as an act of solidarity with those fellow Catholics who are tyrannically prevented from attending Mass altogether as in, say, China or Syria or (fill in the blank).

      Perhaps, for a few days or weeks, some in the Church are asked to be “One” in a new way? Writing from within the Archdiocese of Seattle.

  2. This is a good move by Etienne. God provided us with the ability to understand how viruses like COVID-19 spread. Unfortunately, the mass is particularly dangerous and problematic in terms of spread especially with the typically high numbers of elderly attendees. God will certainly understand, and He will not abandon us. This is a difficult, yet correct decision made by Etienne to protect the physical safety of his flock. God will not abandon us spiritually.

  3. This is a test of faith: Do we believe communion is the real presence of the body of Christ, or just a piece of bread harboring germs?

    Nonetheless here is the problem: Most of the people attending daily masses are elderly over the age of 60 years. A week ago in Seattle, anyone over the age of 60 was advised to self-quarantine at home by the CDC and the State Heath Authorities, the state governor and the local mayor. Most of the volunteers, especially to minister other seniors are seniors themselves. Most of the priests who say mass are seniors over the age of 60 years. Wiping out the senior population over the age of 60 years in the churches would mean wiping out 1) priests 2) volunteers 3) church attendees. See the problem?

    Nevertheless it is easy to get suspicious, especially since Washington State was the first to pass the assistive suicide aka euthanasia law. The current Democratic State Legislature, both Senate and House just passed a law “exploring why more seniors are not opting to commit suicide”. The bill now sits on the Democratic Governor’s desk to sign into law. 10 Seattle area nursing homes now have the virus.

  4. as I wrote to a friend, regarding Rome announcing no Masses until April 3rd….

    which is, unsprisingly, just before Palm Sunday and Holy Week….judging by China, who only just of late, seem to be turning the corner on infections, is not gonna happen….all of Lent remaining without any Masses or Holy Communion, in Rome itself, of all places, and maybe most of world, at this rate…..while a Polish Cardinal has done as i have advised, urging MORE Masses to maintain distance and sanitizing pews in between…assumedly with only official door openers touching doors, and likewise with missals/hymnals removed (not needed by most, anyhow, and disposable handouts can be printed)…..

    I find Rome all too willing to follow govt leads rather than spiritual needs, no suprise given how worldly the majority are there…and frankly find the response cowardly in the extreme…..one parish priest did not collapse and hide, he led a Eucharistic procession around his parish through the streets…as should be done everywhere….he is reacting the way Catholics have always done…leading with God and trusting God, come what may….I see the bishops, cardinals, and pope acting as cowards in the face of disaster….and although this will be bad, it is no end of the world as China and South Korea have shown….and they show they will be hiding when things DO end….I have nothing but contempt for those cats….no attempt at ALL to seek some way to be there for people…just throw in the towel, televise Masses from their hideout, and tell the world they are praying for us…..”

  5. When the going gets tough, the bishops cut and run.
    Most of them anyway.
    Imagine what their actions will be when the State really begins to crack down on religion.

  6. Makes me think of Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death or some would say Masquerade of the Red Death. Run you little Self-Important egotist flee to the Castle for protection, and enjoy your little Banquet’s and festivity’s in private from the needful of humanity. Seattle? It figures.

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