Coronavirus: LA Archdiocese urges churchgoers to not attend Sunday Mass as places of worship grapple with outbreak

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Archdiocese of Los Angeles announced Friday new liturgical accommodations, including a dispensation from the obligation of attending Sunday Mass for the next three weeks, to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Archbishop José H. Gomez said attendance at any Mass in the archdiocese should be limited to 250 people, in line with Gov. Gavin Newsom's recommendation, and that nonessential group meetings and retreats would be suspended.

"It is true that with the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus, we are facing a global health emergency that is like nothing we have seen in our lifetimes. But our hope is in the Lord and we know that he will give us his grace and mercy in our time of need," Gomez wrote in a message to parishioners.

Other new measures include recommending that churchgoers maintain a social distance at Mass.

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"Given the dangers and uncertainties, after prayer and reflection, and in consultation with my brother bishops and priests and lay advisors, I have authorized certain precautions and accommodations related to the celebration of the Eucharist in our parishes," Gomez wrote. "These measures are intended to lessen the risk that we will endanger our people or spread this illness during our worship."

A livestream of Mass will be broadcast from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels each Sunday and can be viewed live on the L.A. Catholics Facebook Page or on The English Mass is held at 10 a.m., followed by the Spanish Mass at 12:30 p.m.

The archdiocese has nearly 600 locations across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, according to the Los Angeles Catholics website.

Newsom on Wednesday recommended the cancellation of any gatherings of more than 250 people to help contain the coronavirus outbreak.

In the wake of the global pandemic - which has prompted the closure of schools, businesses and theme parks as well as the suspension or cancellation or sports seasons - many are now trying to balance the needs of their congregations while protecting their health.

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The Diocese of Rome announced earlier this week that they were canceling all Masses throughout the city. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has canceled all worship services worldwide.

In the Inland Empire, churches of various sizes are dealing with the crisis in their own ways.

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In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, many churchgoers are now trying to balance the needs of their congregations while protecting their health.

"We need to be faithful but not stupid," said Rev. Erin Thomas at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Riverside. "That's the challenge: attending to spiritual needs, while not being irresponsible."

Thomas said they've placed bottles of hand sanitizer near the church entrance. They've had hand wipes in the sanctuary for years, as that practice has been in place since the spread of the H1N1 virus. They're asking church members to practice social distancing, which shouldn't be a problem given the size of their sanctuary.

"They can sit apart and feel connected, but not touching. We announced to people that they could do what they feel comfortable doing, whether that is not touching or hugging," Thomas said. "We encourage them to bow, pass the peace verbally, and not necessarily touch."

Thomas added that their second service has an attendance of about 110 people on any given Sunday, so they don't fall under the category of large gatherings that have been asked to cancel by Riverside County's health officer. They're still working on a plan for serving communion and collecting offering.

But larger churches, like Grove Community Church and Harvest Christian Fellowship, may have no choice given Riverside County's order to cancel large gathering of 250 or more people. Sandals Church has already decided to have services online only starting this weekend.

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A statement from Brian Chelette, the executive director of network services for Sandals Church, read in part: "We... ask everyone to please watch with us from home where you can participate in worship, hear a timely message from Pastor Matt Brown, as well as pray and give with us.

"We have a unique opportunity as believers to turn to God in prayer in light of the great deal of uncertainty that surrounds this situation. We invite you to join us in praying for those who have been affected by coronavirus so far and for those who are currently experiencing heightened fear and anxiety as we all wait to see how coronavirus may impact our communities."

City News Service contributed to this report.
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