President Donald Trump takes questions during a COVID-19 task force briefing with reporters at the White House in Washington March 16. Trump urged people in the U.S. not to gather in groups of 10 or larger in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. (Leah Millis/CNS, via Reuters)

In a statement from the Diocese of Phoenix sent in the afternoon of March 16, diocesan officials announced that Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has suspended all weekday and Sunday Masses, effective immediately and until further notice.

The bishop also asked that all parish- and diocesan-based public gatherings be canceled.

The decision comes a day after all public schools in Arizona and Catholic schools in the diocese closed. In addition, President Donald J. Trump recommended through the — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — limiting all public gatherings to 10 people.

At the same time, Bishop Olmsted dispensed the Sunday Mass obligation for all Catholics residing or visiting the Diocese of Phoenix.

“Catholics are encouraged to make a Spiritual Communion, to pray the Rosary and other devotional prayers during this time,” the statement said.

The weekly televised Mass will still be available to be viewed live on AZTV Channel 7, as well as via livestream on YouTube and Facebook.

A viewer watches a livestream Mass from the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and a few concelebrants March 15. All Sunday Masses in the Archdiocese of Baltimore were suspended amid coronavirus pandemic concerns. At one point nearly 1,800 people were watching the live feed, which exceeds the capacity of the cathedral. The weekly televised Mass from Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix will continue to be livestreamed on AZTV Channel 7, and (Ann M. Augherton/CNS, via Arlington Herald)

Other directives include:

  • Churches and chapels may remain open for private prayer. Protocol for social distancing must be observed.
  • Communal Penance services should be canceled; however, priests are strongly encouraged to make confessions available in outdoor or open-air spaces, if this is judged helpful.
  • No parish religious education programs are to assemble.
  • No parish public events or gatherings that exceed 10 persons.
  • Weddings should be restricted to 10 or less persons.
  • Funerals should be restricted to immediate family and friends, less than 10 attending.

“While these directives are a hardship and deeply painful for us all, they are sensible and in line with the guidance of the president and the spirit of the CDC’s directive,” the statement said. “Due to the highly fluid nature of this crisis situation, the diocese continues to monitor this situation closely.”

Parishes are asked to place a large sign on the front doors of their churches notifying the faithful of the dispensation, the recommendation to make a Spiritual Communion and a list of times and channels for the TV Mass in English and Spanish, as well as on the radio, YouTube and Facebook.

“Christian Charity will prevail — throughout history Christians have served the community as a witness of love and care during times of illness. Christ is the center of our life and He will lead us through all challenges,” the statement said, entrusting the diocese to its patroness, Our Lady of Guadalupe. “Let us remember that we are united in Christ through prayer and a common spirit of love and trust in Him.”