Deacon Andy Orosco, whose ancestors are from the Kumeyaay Nation, blesses the altar with incense.
Deacon Andy Orosco blesses the altar with incense during a 2019 multicultural Mass at Cathedral Catholic High School in Carmel Valley. Photo by Chris Stone

The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego on Friday announced that daily and Sunday Masses will be canceled starting Monday to fight the coronavirus.

Catholic schools will be closed and students shifted to online learning, the diocese said, but churches will remain open for parishioners and others who wish to pray and seek spiritual assistance.

A decision on when Masses will resume and schools reopen will be made in coordination with state and local public health authorities, officials said less than a month away from Easter (April 12).

Bishop Robert McElroy leads a diocese that runs the length of California’s border with Mexico and serves more than 1.3 million Catholics in San Diego and Imperial counties with 98 parishes, and 49 elementary and secondary schools. Photo by Chris Stone

In a letter to priests Friday morning, Bishop McElroy said: “I have no need to tell you of the dislocations, legitimate concerns and misplaced fear that are burdening our parishioners and families in these days concerning COVID-19. Being on the ground, you know these realities far more deeply and personally than I do.

“The public health response in our society is changing daily, and it is essential that the Church move in tandem with prudent efforts to stop the spread of this pandemic.”

McElroy said he consulted with the Presbyteral (Priests’) Council on Thursday and Friday.

He said parishes are encouraged to keep churches open longer hours for personal visitation, intermittent recitations of the Rosary, and Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

“All Catholics in the Diocese of San Diego are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass during the coming weeks,” he said. “We will be providing video-streamed Sunday Masses celebrated by priests and bishops of our diocese in English, Spanish and Vietnamese every week. Your parishioners can access these celebrations by linking to the diocesan website at starting this Sunday.”

Earlier this week, Bishop McElroy announced other steps designed to reduce attendance at individual services to fewer than 250 people, including the cancellation of Lenten reconciliation services, changes in liturgy to make Mass times shorter and to prevent overlapping between Masses, and the elimination of nonessential meetings and events.

And last week, the bishop announced that parishes would no longer offer Communion by wine or chalice, would drain and remove Holy Water from baptismal fonts and church entrances, and strongly discourage parishioners from asking for or receiving Communion (the Eucharist) on their tongue.

“It is vital that we proceed with a blend of prudent concern for public health and the spiritual mission that lies at the heart of the Church and is especially vital in these days,” the Bishop told his priests,” he said. “I give thanks once again for all of the service which you render to the Church, especially in moments like this.”

He said the diocese remains in close touch with state and county public health authorities and will continue to be guided by the best scientific and medical advice available.

Hours earlier, the archdiocese covering Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties said it was lifting parisioners’ obligation of attending Sunday Mass for the next three weeks.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez said Mass attendance should be limited to 250 people. Nonessential meetings and retreats were suspended.

In a letter to the archdiocese, Gomez wrote: “I encourage those of you who cannot come to Mass to stay home and read the gospels, pray with your families and to join yourself to the sacrifice of the Mass by making an act of spiritual communion.”

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich on Friday “mandated the suspension [of Masses] until further notice of all liturgical services effective Saturday evening.

The Diocese of Rome on March 8 canceled all public Masses until April 3,

Late Thursday, the activist Jesuit priest James Martin tweeted that the Archbishop of Seattle has suspended Masses in his archdiocese and the Bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, has “dispensed” (or excused) Catholics from their Sunday Mass obligations.

He said Catholics revere the sanctity of life and these measures are aimed at protecting lives.

“The Eucharist is the ‘source and summit’ of worship, the real presence of the Body of Christ,” he said. “And [a] good pastor is willing to die for the Eucharist. But a good pastor does not require or force others to die for it.”