The Catholic Diocese of Brownsville has issued further instructions on how to celebrate Mass in response to the coronavirus.
Previously, the diocese announced a cancellation of both the joining of hands during the Lord’s prayer and wine being distributed during Communion.
Late Friday, new guidelines issued now relieve parishioners of the obligation to attend Mass and further change rules for communion.
“I think we have to assume that the coronavirus is in the Rio Grande Valley, or soon will be,” Bishop Daniel E. Flores wrote in a letter to the local Catholic community Friday. “The faithful should take steps to protect the vulnerable in the community. The healthy must remember that they could be a cause of infection for the elderly and infirm, and thus should take necessary precautions out of concern for others, not just themselves.”
In the letter, Flores relieved parishioners of their obligation to attend Mass and encouraged at-risk populations to stay away from church.
“All the faithful are dispensed from the obligation to assist at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days until further notice,” he wrote. “The sick, anyone over 60 years of age, those who suffer chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems, and any persons who care for them should avoid attending Mass or other church gatherings.”
The letter urged frequent hand washing, cleaning of surfaces and avoidance of public activities for sick individuals. It also further altered the way Mass will be held in the RGV.
“I am directing that Catholics not receive Holy Communion directly on the tongue, but only in the hand,” Flores wrote in the letter. “For those Catholics for whom this causes great discomfort, I urge you to offer this as an act of charity for the good of the whole community. These directives remain in effect until withdrawn by the bishop.”
The letter noted that Mass has not been suspended in the diocese.
“The circumstances may require such a decision. If that should happen, priests will offer Mass without the assistance of the faithful,” it read.
Flores encouraged his flock to pray while churches remain open and wrote that Mass could be watched online.
“While we have access to the sacraments and to prayer in our Churches, I encourage those who can attend Mass to pray especially in communion with many Catholics around the world who cannot attend Mass at this time though they long to do so,” Flores wrote. “Masses streamed through social media can be accessed through links provided on the diocesan webpage.”