CORONA VIRUS UPDATE - MAY 17

Coronavirus Update
May 15, 2020

This document captures the most recent guidance from the Archdiocese of Seattle regarding the coronavirus and steps our communities can take to help prevent its spread. We will be updating this guidance in accordance with recommendations from the Washington State Department of Health and local public health officials.

In light of the archbishop’s directive to suspend public Mass, people should know that they are temporarily dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until the coronavirus danger lessens and Masses are reinstated. This directive, however, does not close the church, which will be open for private prayer.

During this time, pastors will be available for pastoral emergencies, private meetings, anointing of sick, and so on. At the end of the day, we want to ensure we are slowing the spread of the coronavirus and protecting the vulnerable in our community, while also serving the needs of our parishioners.

Governor Inslee released new guidance outlining how Washington State will re-open. Specifically, the Governor is using a very data-driven approach to determine when each phase will begin. If all goes well, each phase will last approximately 3 weeks. However, it is also possible that phases will last longer if the virus spread starts to increase. Here is the tentative phased opening:

  • Phase 1- currently in this phase (“drive-in spiritual services” are allowed – does not include Catholic Mass)
  • Phase 2- begins May 26th at the earliest (groups of 5 allowed with physical distancing)
  • Phase 3- begins June 16th at the earliest (groups up to 50 with physical distancing)
  • Phase 4- begins July 7th at the earliest (groups over 50, including vulnerable populations with physical distancing)

The bishops of Washington are working directly with the Governor’s Office through the Washington State Catholic Conference. They’ve attended inter-faith meetings with the Governor and submitted draft guidelines for how to reopen Catholic masses. Once those have been approved, they will be shared publicly. In the meantime, please see the current guidance below:

Resources for Families

We have a series of resources for families who are at home. Please visit the At Home with Faith page to access these weekly resources.

Physical Distancing

During this time it is imperative that everyone upholds the 6 feet of physical distancing while on the parish campus. We also highly encourage the use of masks at this time to protect everyone from the spread of the coronavirus.

Drive-In Liturgies

Although Governor Inslee included “drive-in spiritual services” in his Phase 1 reopening plans for Washington, the Archdiocese of Seattle will not be celebrating any drive-in Mass at this time. This guidance does not allow people to get out of their cars or to receive Communion. Therefore, we will continue to livestream the Mass until we are able to fully celebrate the Mass reverently.

However, we have seen the successful implementation of “drive-in confessions,” which are possible in our archdiocese. Based on the Phase 1 guidance, a “drive-in confession” where people do not get out of the car is possible and may be publicized to your parish community.

Livestreaming Mass and Online Resources
Based on the recent guidance and to follow along with our other religious peers in this region, Masses may be celebrated with no more than 8 people, including the priest. Please ensure no one is vulnerable and that everyone participating is healthy and practices physical distancing.

We encourage parishes to livestream daily and Sunday Mass and share online faith resources. This will help your community stay connected and fuel the spiritual needs of your people. There are several resources listed on the homepage of the archdiocesan website to support you in this. If you need additional support, please reach out to Helen McClenahan in the Communications Office at Helen.McClenahan@seattlearch.org.

Additionally, Archbishop Etienne will live stream Masses daily at 8:30 a.m. on the Archdiocese of Seattle Vimeo Channel and simultaneously on the Archdiocese’s Facebook page. Bishop Elizondo will also stream daily Mass in Spanish at 8:30 a.m. and Sunday Mass at 11:30 a.m. on the Hispanic Ministry Facebook page, which you can find @CatolicosNW.

Church Hours
We need to ensure that the faithful are able to visit the sacred space of the church for private prayer. The decision to open the church for private prayer is up to the pastor’s discretion. In order to open the doors of the church, it is absolutely necessary that the following requirements are met:

  • A non-vulnerable individual (staff member or volunteer) must be present any time the church is open. This may require a new schedule where the church is only open a few hours a day, or only on certain days of the week.
  • This individual must ensure physical distancing of 6 feet and must properly sanitize areas that have been touched by parishioners.

If these requirements cannot be met, then the church should direct parishioners to other local Catholic churches that can facilitate this environment. This may require parishes to work together to ensure parishioners have a place to pray on a regional basis.

Adoration and “Priest Availability” Schedule

Please note that hours for public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (exposition) cannot be published since such an action would constitute an “event” and potentially draw people from their homes (in opposition to the governor’s order) into the church. Instead, we will publicize the hours the church is open for private prayer and make it very clear how people can reach a pastor for spiritual needs or for a pastoral emergency. Please be sure parishioners know how to reach their priest and schedule an appointment if needed.

Confession

We want to offer people the opportunity to experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Providing this sacrament is an important and essential way in which we minister the healing and merciful love of God. Even though we are in a heightened health alert state, the conditions do not yet exist for general absolution. Therefore, we will continue to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on an individual basis only.

By way of reminder, confessions must take place in person. Confessions are not permitted over electronic media including telephones, FaceTime and any other video or teleconferencing means. 

To help minimize the risk of exposure, we recommend considering the following actions should anyone be concerned about possible transmission of the coronavirus:

  • Temporarily move out of the confessional if it is in a tight space and provide the Sacrament of Confession in a larger room or outside location where a confidential conversation can be held.
     
  • If possible, we recommend using a screen to block the air flow between priest and penitent. The penitent should always have the option of confessing their sins anonymously.
     
  • Ensure at least 6 feet of space between the priest and penitent.
     
  • We advise using a chair without armrests or cleansing the armrests with a sanitizer between each person.  You may also consider providing this sacrament in such a way that the penitent remains standing so to ensure proper distance while minimizing the surfaces that are touched.

Pastoral ministry for homebound, hospitalized or quarantined

Jesus calls us to be as present as possible to people in these circumstances at this time lest they feel abandoned or isolated in a moment of need.  They must know the love of God through us.  Let us remember the very clear words of Jesus when he taught us the Corporal Works of Mercy:

“I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.” Matthew 25:26

Our faith requires us to continue the ministry of our Lord Jesus – including anointing of the sick – ensuring that all appropriate hospital protocols are followed. (Check with the nurses station before entering patient rooms if you have any questions). Additionally, we will continue to provide pastoral care to people who are homebound or quarantined. 

However, there are key items to consider:

  • Any minister who does not wish to carry out this ministry – for whatever reason - may be excused by contacting their supervisor.  The supervisor (OVC, Pastor, or parish leader) should ensure another person provides the pastoral care to hospitalized, homebound, or quarantined individuals.  This ministry should not cease without notification of superiors and appropriate follow-through.
     
  • It is particularly helpful for all homebound visitors to call ahead to ensure the individual is still accepting visitors. Pro-active communication will help confirm that individuals and families desire such visits. 
     
  • It is most important that all home-bound visitors practice the highest sanitary precautions, including excellent hand washing, when carrying out their ministry. 
     
  • If you are preparing to visit someone who is showing symptoms – or if you are called to anoint an individual who has the coronavirus in a homebound situation – please reach out to Nick Schoen, who has prepared several Anointing Kits for trained priests in each deanery. These kits include the appropriate personal protective gear (face mask, gloves, eye protection, gown) that must be worn. If you are called to a hospital setting and have questions, please reach out to Joe Cotton from Hospital Ministry at Joe.Cotton@seattlearch.org.
     
  • Any minister who has had unprotected close contact with someone who has the coronavirus (by not following the guidelines above) must self-quarantine for two weeks and follow the guidelines issued by the Washington State Department of Health: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/Coronavirus
     
  • Ministers may encounter situations where they are denied access to facilities – which is happening at various nursing facilities. In this situation, we recommend calling the individuals directly and sharing the following prayer with them:

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most holy Eucharist. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.

Food Banks

Many of our parishes operate food banks or food services for people in our communities, which is deemed essential in the governor’s order. Therefore, we recommend that parishes continue this important part of our ministry. However, any parish worker or volunteer cannot be a vulnerable person. Each parish will need willing volunteers who are not vulnerable to keep food banks operational during this time. Additionally, many parishes collect food during Sunday Mass. Now that Masses are suspended, please publicize a new time and location to drop off food donations. Also, ensure everyone is using physical distancing and that volunteers should wear a mask.

Baptisms and Weddings
This order requires us to postpone all gatherings including weddings and baptisms. The only exception would be for a private baptism when there is a grave danger of death.

Funerals and Cemeteries
Based on the order, all funerals Masses at the parish will be postponed. We recommend waiting to schedule a memorial Mass with the family once the ban has been lifted.  Additionally, Associated Catholic Cemeteries will be doing graveside services for no more than five (5) family members.

Confirmation
In light of the current situation, all confirmation candidates are dispensed from the promulgated requirements this year — especially the retreat. We will proceed with confirmation of candidates based on a pastor’s recommendation of each candidate’s readiness. While it’s too early to know how this situation will impact upcoming confirmations, we recommend two options:

  • Pastors may wish to coordinate with Kimberly in the archbishop’s office to reschedule the event later in the summer.
  • Confirmation candidates may join with other nearby parishes for confirmations that are scheduled for later this spring. I am sure other parishes will understand the unusual circumstances of this year’s situation.

Votive Masses for Various Needs
In accordance with the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM 374), Archbishop Etienne has given permission to priests in the Archdiocese of Seattle to celebrate any of the appropriate Votive Masses for Various Needs on the weekdays of Easter. This is especially relevant for pastors who want to celebrate a Votive Mass for the Sick or Votive Mass for Any Need. 

Processions
Processions are only permitted with the permission of the local bishop (Canon 944.1). At this time, no public processions should take place because a procession is an event that gathers people. A procession would draw a crowd and negate the efforts concerning social distancing and protection of the vulnerable in our community.

Book of the Dead
The Archdiocese is going to create a Book of the Dead dedicate to those who passed away from COVID-19 in the Archdiocese of Seattle. If a member of your parish community has passed away from the coronavirus, please share his or her name with Nick Schoen (Nicholas.schoen@seattlearch.org) to be placed into this book. Additionally, each Friday, Archbishop Etienne is remembering these individuals during his live stream Mass.

Bells in Solidarity
To demonstrate our solidarity with everyone who is impacted by the coronavirus, we recommend pastors ring their bells at noon. At this time, we ask that you encourage people to pray the Angelus as a family in their homes and conclude with the prayer to Our Lady of Seattle.

Remember to Pray

Catholics have always joined together in prayer during times of plague throughout the ages, ministered to the sick, attended to the dying and buried the dead.  May we do the same today, loving God and our neighbor. In times like this, we have the opportunity to live out Jesus’s command to love God and our neighbor. Let’s continue to pray for everyone involved – especially as we continue our Lenten journey.

As Pope Francis reminds us, we should be reaching out to our communities and praying in solidarity with the Church around the world. He said,

“Let us pray to the Lord also for our priests, that they may have the courage to go out and go to the sick people to bring the strength of God's word and the Eucharist and accompany the health workers and volunteers in this work that they are doing.”

Love of Your Neighbor

People will spend more time at home now. This is also a time for Catholics to manifest Christ’s love more than ever. Here are some ideas to show this love:

  • Expand outreach by making phone calls to homebound neighbors and local nursing home residents to accompany them in spirit.
  • Offer to pray over the phone. 
  • Offer to go grocery shopping for others who need to stay at home.
  • Our homeless neighbors will be encountering more hunger as local restaurants and catering companies begin to reduce the preparation of meals. Increase giving to local foodbanks, Catholic Community Services, and St. Vincent de Paul.
  • Consider donating blood or plasma.
  • Purchase gas cards for your local nursing home or hospital health care providers and drop them off at the front desk as a thank you gift from the local Catholic church.