Re: Suspension of Public Masses due to the Spread of COVID-19


25 February 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in the Archdiocese of Tokyo:

Re: Suspension of Public Masses due to the Spread of COVID-19

With the recent reports concerning the spread of infections and serious cases due to the new corona virus, the experts commission of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has issued on 24 February specific preventive measures and guidelines in response to the situation.

It was pointed out that with the rate of the spread of infections at this time, the next two weeks is crucial for the prevention of outbreaks, thus, recommending to refrain from holding gatherings with unspecified number of people.

In the Archdiocese of Tokyo, we have already issued two advisories concerning measures related to the COVID-19. However, it is expected that the infection will spread more widely, raising the possibility of putting many lives in danger. In order to contain the spread of the COVID-19 and to protect lives, the Church is determined to take necessary even unprecedented measures for this crucial two weeks.

In order to avoid various possible risks, we have decided to issue the following measures, and I encourage everyone to observe them together with the specific measures stated in the first two advisories.

1: In general, public masses from February 27 (Thursday) to March 14 (Saturday) will be suspended.

2: In particular, public masses on the following Sundays, March 1 and March 8, in general will be suspended in parishes and in public facilities where a large number of faithful coming from various places regularly gather for Sunday masses.

3: However, weddings and funerals will be held as usual, only after taking sufficient measures to prevent infections.

4: Weekday masses from February 27 to March 14 will also be suspended, except for small communities.

5: This two-week suspension of the mass is taken as an immediate response to the present circumstances, thus, unless there is a major change in the situation, the suspension will be lifted after March 15. In such case, kindly take note of the measures stated in the first and the second advisories.

6: For events other than masses, as much as possible kindly consider postponing or canceling them, except only for small gatherings. Concerning events serving food and drinks, please be informed that the government of Tokyo has already issued directives on the matter.

7: For March 1 and 8, all the faithful in the Archdiocese of Tokyo will be exempted from their obligations to attend Sunday mass. I recommend everyone to find time to read the Bible and offer prayers. We are looking at the possibility of broadcasting the mass via internet, and on such case, I encourage participation by viewing the live mass in the act of spiritual communion.

It is not easy for the Church to make this decision to suspend masses, which should be offered daily. But I am hoping for your understanding of the seriousness of the situation that led to such a decision.

In the parishes of the Tokyo Archdiocese, there are quite a number of churches visited by a large number of people, including tourists, who come from many different places. Moreover, thinking about the increasing number of elderly people among the faithful, it is important to put efforts in avoiding risks, such as the possibility of close contact with other people during the mass and the possibility of getting infected along the way as they travel to church. We have certainly considered the possibility of emphasizing personal responsibility of the faithful in their participation in the mass. However, during this crucial two weeks, in order to prevent the spread of the infection, and to ensure its effectiveness, it was decided that the mass should be suspended.

As mentioned above, the period until March 14 is an immediate response to the situation at the moment. Before the prescribed period ends, a decision will be made once again, and unless there is a serious request from the government to refrain from holding gatherings, there is no plan to continue the suspension of the mass during the entire period when there are cases of infections. I hope you understand that this as an emergency safety measure to stop the spread of the infection.

We absolutely believe in the power of prayers. There is no stopping us from praying just because the infections had spread widely. In taking various practical measures to respond to COVID-19, there is no point in having a Church in this world unless we include our spiritual response in our fight against COVID-19.

Recalling the words of our Lord commanding “Do this in memory of me,” would lead us to think that the suspension of the mass is for us a spiritual defeat. The fact is we must offer more prayers than usual during this time of crisis. The suspension of the mass is actually not a defeat, but rather it is an opportunity for us to reaffirm the power of prayer, to deepen our spiritual life through prayer, and to recognize from our hearts its power.

Grounded on a faith that hopes for life, with compassion and love, let us pray to God our Father, through the intercession of our blessed Mother, that He may restore those who are infected by COVID-19 and take full control of the situation.

Tarcisio Isao Kikuchi, SVD
Archbishop of Tokyo

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