Washington D.C., Mar 13, 2020 / 12:32 pm (CNA).- The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception announced Friday afternoon it will suspend the public celebration of Mass and the hearing of confessions until further notice, just hours after the shrine said it would keep to its public Mass and confession schedule unless ordered to close by civic authorities.
A statement from the shrine, released Friday afternoon, said that the change came at the instruction of the Archdiocese of Washington, which announced Thursday the suspension of public Masses in DC parishes.
“The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will suspend the public celebration of Mass and there will be no scheduled Confessions effective Saturday, March 14, until further notice, as directed by the Archdiocese of Washington,” the statement said.
“Beginning this Sunday, March 15, and continuing every Sunday, the Basilica will livestream its 12 noon Solemn Mass with the Choir of the Basilica from the Great Upper Church on its website so the faithful may participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.”
The Friday afternoon statement from the shrine said that the basilica will remain open for private prayer from 9 am to 5 pm daily, but that tours were suspended until further notice.
“We, at America’s Catholic Church, pray for all affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, patroness of the United States under her title of the Immaculate Conception, to intercede for us during these unprecedented times,” the statement said.
The decision marked a reversal in plans for the basilica, which is the largest Catholic church in the U.S.
Earlier on Friday, shrine staff told CNA that the basilica would maintain its public ministry schedule, even after the Archdiocese of Washington announced Thursday that public Mass would be suspended in the archdiocese in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Jackie Hayes, director of communications for the National Shrine, confirmed to CNA on Friday morning that, notwithstanding Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s decision to close the archdiocese’s Catholic schools and cancel all public Masses, the shrine would continue operations as normal.
Hayes also told CNA that the shrine’s decision to keep offering public Mass had been made after consultation with the archdiocese.
While the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located within the territorial bounds of the Archdiocese of Washington, it is not a diocesan church. Archbishop Wilton Gregory, as Washington archbishop, is ex officio chairman of the shrine’s board of directors.
On Thursday, shrine rector Msgr. Walter Rossi released a statement saying that unless the church is ordered by the government to cease operations, Mass and other sacraments will continue on their normal schedule.
“We are committed to keeping the doors of America’s Catholic Church open. However, should circumstances change and government authorities require us to close to the public, we intend to continue with the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” said Rossi.
Rossi’s statement was released about five hours before Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington announced that all public Masses in the archdiocese would be canceled until further notice.