After relieving the faithful from their Sunday Mass obligations and cancelling their Holy Week and Easter services, the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens has now indefinitely closed all of its churches and rectories due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The shutdown will be in place until further notice, according to a diocese statement issued Friday. Two priests have contracted the coronavirus over the last week.
It’s also proven difficult to hold funerals, weddings, baptisms and other services while abiding by the Centers for Disease Control recommendation to limit all gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
“We want to ensure that there cannot be any more possible exposure to the virus at one of our Churches in Brooklyn and Queens,” said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, leader of the diocese. “This was not an easy decision to make; however, the safety of our parishioners and our priests, deacons, and religious and parish staff weigh heavily on my mind.”
The diocese did not identify the names of the priests who have contracted coronavirus.
One of them is assigned to Sacred Heart Church, located at 84-05 78th Ave. in Glendale, Queens. He celebrated the 8 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Masses on Sunday, March 15, and attended a soup supper the night before in the church basement.
The other infected priest is assigned to St. Matthew’s Church, located at 1123 Eastern Pkwy. in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where he celebrated the 11:30 a.m. Mass on March 15.
Both churches and their rectories are now being thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.
The diocese had “dispensed” Brooklyn and Queens Catholics of their obligation to attend Sunday Masses the weekend of March 14-15. The churches, however, were not closed; people were able to attend Mass, provided they practiced good hygiene and social distancing measures.
Now that the churches are completely closed, no services of any kind will be held — including funerals, weddings and baptisms. The diocese says it’s simply not feasible to limit gatherings at these events to 10 people or less.
Graveside services will be held across the boroughs at the discretion of each cemetery administration, and under CDC social distancing guidelines. The diocese invites families to celebrate their loved ones by scheduled memorial Masses at a later date.
All weddings and baptisms have also been postponed to later dates, the diocese added.
Even confessions, the sacrament of reconciliation, have been virtually stopped. Usually a rite held on Saturdays prior to vigil Masses, the diocese is now limiting confessions to emergency situations only. It may be necessary for the confession to be one-on-one and in-person, but with social distancing measures taken, the diocese said.
Rectories, the offices for each individual parish, were also closed indefinitely as of noon Friday. Contact in person will be limited, the diocese noted, but anyone who needs to talk to a pastor or priest can attempt to reach out by phone or social media.
The Catholic Church is currently amidst one of its holiest seasons of the year, Lent, a 40-day period of reflection leading up to Holy Week, which marks the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Easter Sunday, April 12, celebrates his resurrection from the dead.
Despite all the disruption, DiMarzio noted that Catholics can still celebrate Masses from their homes by tuning into NET-TV, the diocese’s cable channel, or stream them live online at dioceseofbrooklyn.org/masses. The Masses will be celebrated in seven different languages: Japanese, French, Italian, English, Polish, Spanish and Chinese.
“With the celebration of Masses on NET-TV in different languages and live-streamed on our website,” DiMarzio said, “we can still experience a sense of solidarity that we feel at Church, knowing we are all in this situation together. United in prayer to our Lord, He will guide us out of the desert.”