PORTLAND – In what he called “by far one of the most difficult communications I have ever written,” Archbishop Alexander Sample announced March 16 that all Masses in the Archdiocese of Portland — including those for Holy Week and Easter — were canceled through April 14.
The archbishop shared the news in a letter to the faithful issued the same day Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced that gatherings of more than 25 people were banned for four weeks. Brown also said the state’s bars and restaurants must close and urged Oregonians to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
The governor’s decision was the latest set of drastic actions intended to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. Earlier Monday, President Donald Trump made a similar recommendation that gatherings not exceed 10 people.
“I suspect that at some point 10 people will become the law,” wrote Archbishop Sample in the letter. He said it would be impossible to manage the 10- to 25-person limit in Masses in the parishes and missions of western Oregon.
It was a choice made “with a very heavy heart,” he said.
As of March 17, there were 47 confirmed cases of the virus in Oregon and one death.
With Archbishop Sample’s announcement, he dispensed all the faithful from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation through April 14.
“This will be particularly hard because this will take us through Holy Week and Easter,” said the archbishop, noting that additional information, direction, suggestions and pastoral guidance will be forthcoming “as we navigate together these uncharted waters.”
Archbishop Sample said he would be reminding priests of the importance of offering daily Mass, though not publicly, for the good of the faithful and for an end to the crisis.
“I am sorry beyond words to have to make this decision,” he wrote. “It is very painful for me to do so. In the midst of this we must remember that the holy Eucharist remains the source and summit of the Christian life. May our hunger for the Mass and the Body of Christ be a source of grace for us.”
On March 11, the governor had banned all public gatherings, including religious services, of more than 250 people. On March 12, the archbishop said Masses would continue in western Oregon and offered directives to keep the faithful safe.
Most Masses celebrated on the weekends in the Archdiocese of Portland are far below 250. The first statement from the archbishop said that any parish gathering exceeding that number should be canceled. For parishes with Mass attendance above 250, the archdiocese had asked pastors to “be creative,” urging worshippers to attend less populous churches, adding Masses or livestreaming.
Some parishes canceled weekend Masses March 14–15 and a number of parishes did livestream or record liturgies. (The Archdiocese of Portland is planning to livestream its 11 a.m. Sunday Mass from the St. Mary’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception).
Catholics who do not attend Mass were encouraged to make an act of spiritual communion, the memo added. In spiritual communion, people unite themselves to God through prayer.