Concern over the coronavirus outbreak has prompted the head of the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas to release area Catholics from their obligation to attend Sunday Mass for the next three weekends.
In a letter released Friday, Bishop George L. Thomas noted health officials’ advice that the virus “continues to spread through person-to-person contact, affecting most especially the elderly and medically vulnerable members of our community.”
To “mitigate the spread of this illness in our local community” and because of what he calls “this grave and unprecedented moment,” Thomas writes, “I hereby dispense all Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Las Vegas and those Catholics visiting within the geographic boundaries of our Diocese, from the obligation of attending Sunday Masses for the weekends of March 14-15, March 21-22, and March 28-29.”
The dispensation “will be revisited as further medical information becomes available through our local and national health authorities.”
Thomas encourages Catholics who can’t attend Mass to “stay home and read the Gospels (these can be found at usccb.org/bible/readings), pray with your families, and to join yourself to the sacrifice of the Mass by making an act of spiritual communion.”
Thomas also notes that the diocese offers a televised Mass at 7:30 a.m. Sundays on KFBT-TV, Channel 33.
The obligation to attend Mass is “dispensed only for grave cause,” Thomas writes. “I believe that the present circumstances meet that criteria.”
The Sunday Mass dispensation is the latest move Thomas has taken to address the coronavirus outbreak. On Feb. 27, he suspended the distribution of Communion via the chalice and the exchange of peace at Mass.
In Friday’s letter, Thomas asks diocesan pastors to continue to celebrate regularly scheduled Masses while exercising precautionary measures to avoid transmitting the coronavirus. He also asks pastors to include during Mass prayers asking protection from illness and blessings for families who have experienced the death of loved ones, as well as “special blessings” for physicians, nurses, health care providers, public health officials and civic leaders.