GREAT FALLS — Bishop Michael Warfel has announced that all public Masses in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings will be suspended until Monday, March 30.
The order was made due to public health concerns over the continuing spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Warfel says this includes the extension of a general dispensation for all the faithful from the obligation to participate at Mass on Sunday.
Warfel said that he had a conference call on Monday with a majority of the priests serving in this diocese in order to receive their input and advice.
He asked for the meeting based on the recent announcement by Gov. Steve Bullock regarding the state’s recommendations and the recommendations of the US Cdnters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The call was followed by a meeting with members of the Priests’ Council in order to "delve more deeply into the issue" and discuss an appropriate response.
Warfel also consulted with Chancery Staff and received input from the Vicar General of the Diocese. He also discussed the issue with Bishop Vetter of the Diocese of Helena.
"My staff will continue to monitor the extent of the spread of Covid-19 (more hopefully its eradication) as the March 30 date approaches in order to make an updated determination regarding our response,” Warfel said in a news release.
“I am fully aware how difficult this decision will be for people of faith. There is nothing more central to Catholics than the Eucharist. Priests will continue to offer ‘private’ Masses for the intentions of the faithful and be available for confessions during this time."
"Priests are encouraged to solicit assistance from the laity to live-stream Masses in the absence of the faithful but celebrated in the parish, using social media. This can be done with a smartphone with access to the internet,” Warfel continued.
“If not, the Mass could be recorded (again on a smartphone) and then later uploaded to the parish website or posted for viewing online. Parishioners, of course, could be encouraged to watch Mass on the internet or television.”