Statement from Bishop John M. LeVoir of the Diocese of New Ulm Regarding Immediate Parish Guidelines

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NEW ULM (March 18, 2020)Out of concern for people’s safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have asked clergy and parishes in the Diocese of New Ulm to immediately enact the following as stated.

 

The fundamental operating principles of the Diocese of New Ulm as we face this pandemic are the prevention or the slowing down of the spreading of the virus and the spiritual wellbeing of our parishioners, while not endangering ourselves (see Pope Francis’ quote below to pastors).  Therefore, after prayer and consultation, and given the President’s newly issued guideline that over the next 15 days, Americans should not gather in groups of more than ten people, I have suspended all public Masses in the Diocese of New Ulm immediately until at least March 31.  All Catholics in the diocese remain dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass during this time.

 

In recent memory, this is an unprecedented action.  I know that this will cause some major changes in the way in which we function as a Church.  However, I think the steps that we are taking in union with our brothers and sisters in our country are essential for our safety, and that we should cooperate and work together as we face this new challenge, while all the time imploring God’s mercy.   

 

Specific guidelines for preventing the spread of the coronavirus are given on the Minnesota Department of Health website.  These guidelines should be taken seriously.

 

Please note the following:

  • Effective today (March 18), all gatherings of ten people or more should be canceled or postponed until at least March 31.  Consider live streaming of meetings.
  • All funerals are to be private and not public, that is, for the immediate family only and for the priest or deacon who is the celebrant.  The Rite of Christian Funerals Within or Outside of Mass may be used.  There should be no public wake or vigil prayer services. No luncheon or dinner should be served in the church hall after the funeral.  However, burials can be scheduled along with the accompanying prayers.  Funeral directors should be aware of the protocols issued by their organization for funerals at this time of the pandemic.  I know that this will be very difficult for those who have lost a loved one. However, it is in all of our best interest to follow the President’s guidelines until the status of the pandemic is better known or further recommendations are given.
  • The celebration of infant Baptisms should also follow the ten-person limit.  
  • All Communal Penance Services should be canceled.  I ask that priests keep the regular schedule 

       of confessions in their parishes but, where possible, both priest and penitent are to use a screen

       for the celebration of the sacrament or maintain a reasonable distance between priest and  

       penitent.  

  • For the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, it is recommended that a cotton swab, dipped only once in the Oil of the Sick be used to anoint.  After the anointing, the swab should be placed in a plastic bag and both bag and swab should be burned. 
  • I ask that church buildings be open during the day, especially on the weekends, so that people can pray in church.  Consider having exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the main church building, at least during the daylight hours.
  • Instead of gathering in the church building for Stations of the Cross, they can be prayed at home or live streamed from the church (for those parishes that have the capability).  The prayers for the Stations can be found at the EWTN website. 
  • I ask that clergy be available to parishioners for Holy Communion (especially for the sick and homebound), for Confession, and blessings.  For Holy Communion, please suggest that Communion be received in the hand for the time being.  At any rate, be careful not to touch the communicant’s hands or tongue.  It is also good to limit access to the tabernacle to avoid many people touching the surfaces of the tabernacle and ciborium.
  • Holy water should be made available at parishioner request.  

 

I have asked priests to celebrate a private Mass each day with the intention of asking God, in His great mercy, to free the world of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects, and to have mercy on the sick and suffering.

 

To encourage pastors, Pope Francis said to them on March 16: “I would also like to pray today for pastors who need to accompany the people of God during this crisis. May the Lord grant them the strength and the ability to choose the best ways to help. Drastic measures are not always good.  Therefore, we pray that the Holy Spirit might grant pastoral discernment to pastors so that they might perceive measures that might not leave the holy, faithful people of God alone, and so that people of God might feel accompanied by their pastors.”

 

The response to the coronavirus pandemic is continually changing.  I call on all the people of the Diocese of New Ulm to ardent prayer.  A short prayer that can be prayed anytime might be: “Turn to us, Lord, and have mercy.”

 

As we approach March 31, further guidelines pertaining to the coronavirus may arise. In the meantime, the faithful should check often the coronavirus special landing page on the diocesan website for links to online and television Masses, diocesan announcements and diocesan cancellations/postponements, prayer ideas, resources, and pertinent news.

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