Recommendations for ministry during pandemic
Friday, Mar. 27, 2020
SALT LAKE CITY — In a memo dated March 19 to all clergy, religious, seminarians, principals, religious education directors and diocesan staff, Bishop Oscar A. Solis outlined directives and recommendations for pastoral ministry in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Noting that the situation had worsened in the week since he ordered the suspension of all public celebrations of the Holy Mass, other sacraments and Church gatherings or events, as well as the closure of Utah Catholic school buildings and diocesan offices, Bishop Solis said he felt it necessary to offer ministers of the Church “some diocesan directives and recommendations so we can faithfully continue our priestly ministry when it is most needed. The People of God need their shepherds to accompany them during this crisis and to provide their spiritual needs to strengthen their faith and hope in God’s love so they can find courage to alleviate their fears.”
Although public worship has been suspended, Catholic churches in Utah remain open for personal visits and private prayers, and “most importantly, our priestly ministry continues. We are NOT “ON VACATION” but “ON CALL” to carry on the mission of Christ,” Bishop Solis wrote. “Our unity and solidarity are very critical at this time. The people of God need to experience the presence of God in our life and ministry. Faithful to our vocation, it is essential to lead and guide them closer to God in prayer and faith so that during this time of isolation, they will not feel alone and abandoned. They need us to accompany them during these hours of uncertainties that they may experience love, hope and peace in God.”
Bishop Solis asked for prayers for the community and families, especially those in need, as well as for the elderly, the sick and vulnerable, for government leaders and health care workers.
To minister to the people while still adhering to the guidelines regarding social distancing, Bishop Solis recommended that pastors and their staff maintain very limited office hours to attend to emergency needs and calls.
To provide a ministry of accompaniment, he suggested priests livestream or videotape their daily and Sunday Masses and share it online through social media, or post it on the parish website.
Priests also may suggest that their congregation watch the televised and streamed Masses celebrated by Pope Francis, and those from the Cathedral of the Madeleine, which are recorded in English and Spanish.
The bishop’s memo included information from Fr. John Evans, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish, about how to livestream or post videos on YouTube and Facebook.
Bishop Solis also instructed priests to explain the theology of spiritual communion to their parishioners, and that they receive spiritual communion when they participate in a virtual Mass. In addition, priests are to recommend resources on prayer.
While the faithful are to be encouraged to make frequent visits to their parish church for private prayer or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, their presence should be limited to 10 people or fewer, and they are to observe social distancing, Bishop Solis said. In addition, the parish should provide sanitizers and soap in the bathrooms for washing hands, and should sanitize copies of prayer books and other materials.
Ministers are to attend to the sick, elderly and homebound in case of emergency, Bishop Solis said in his memo. “If possible and safe, offer the Sacrament of Anointing to those seriously ill, and Viaticum or Holy Communion, observing government and health care directives. Follow guidelines to protect yourself and the faithful from transmitting or getting infected by the virus.”
While providing this ministry, ministers may wear a face mask and gloves, and use cotton swabs/balls; these items are then to be properly disposed of by burying in the ground or burning.
Priests are to designate times for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or individual Confession and define a place where privacy and social distancing can be strictly observed, Bishop Solis stated in his memo.
All Holy Week, Triduum and Easter services will be celebrated in parishes and missions privately without the presence of the congregation.
Onsite classes at Utah Catholic Schools, parish religious education and faith formation are suspended until further notice, although teachers and catechists will continue to provide instruction and materials online and through other methods.