Public celebration of the Mass suspended: Diocese makes significant change to protect faithful from COVID-19

Lindsay Steele
Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport sits empty after the Diocese of Davenport announced that public Masses and gatherings have been suspended until further notice due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — The Diocese of Davenport announced March 16 the suspension of all public celebrations of the Mass until further notice. That significant decision comes in response to Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ weekend announcement of new mitigation measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19 within Iowa.

The social distancing interventions the governor called for are consistent with Step Three of the Davenport Diocese’s Pandemic Flu Policy. However, that policy takes steps beyond those measures. “We are well aware that the time to act is now if we are to have a significant impact on how fast the virus spreads in our communities,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula said.

This list outlines the key changes to church life, until further notice:


• All public celebrations of the Mass and all other public liturgies or devotions are to be cancelled.
• Baptisms, weddings and funerals may be celebrated with immediate family members only.
• Individual confession and anointing of the sick may be celebrated.
• All Catholics in the diocese are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
• Persons who are sick, or caring for someone who is sick, should stay home.
• Persons 60 years of age or older, and those with underlying health conditions, should stay at home and avoid all gatherings or other situations of potential exposure.
• All large group meetings, conferences, retreats and the like in the diocese are to be cancelled.
• All faith formation classes and activities are cancelled (use electronic formats if possible).
• Small office meetings may take place if essential, but it is preferable to meet electronically.
• Encourage staff, especially those at risk for severe illness, to telework (when feasible).
• Limit non-essential work travel.
• All Catholic schools will be closed until at least April 13 and all extracurricular events are cancelled. Further guidance will be forthcoming from the Office of the Superintendent.

“We do not take these steps lightly, especially the cancellation of almost all public worship within the diocese,” Bishop Zinkula said. “The sacraments, and especially the Eucharist, lie at the heart of who we are as Catholics. The common good calls us to make this sacrifice. The need for urgent action to avoid overwhelming our health care system is clear, based on accounts from around the world. Our prayer is that this form of Lenten fasting will put us in deeper solidarity with those going with so much less, with those who will be and are being severely affected by this outbreak.”

Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Thomas Zinkula listens as Deacon Frank Agnoli discusses a point about the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic with Deacon David Montgomery. The Diocese of Davenport has suspended public celebration of liturgies to help prevent the virus from spreading.

While public celebration of the Mass and other liturgies cannot take place, if possible, the pastor will open that parish’s church building at certain times to allow individuals access for private prayer.

People should not enter the building if they are ill, must practice appropriate handwashing and cough hygiene, and remain at least 6 feet apart from one another. No more than 10 people should be in the church at any given time. In smaller church buildings, the number of persons may need to be fewer than 10 to maintain the 6-foot distance
Diocesan staff who attended a meeting about the announcement sat 6 feet apart from one another on metal folding chairs in the old gym at diocesan headquarters, the largest room in the building. Some attended by electronic meeting. Staffers wondered about the timeframe for the restrictions, but diocesan leaders could not predict an endpoint. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended suspension of large group gatherings for at least the next eight weeks. Gatherings are restricted to 10 persons for 15 days. Diocesan leaders will notify the faithful of the lifting of restrictions.

Bishop Zinkula asked his diocesan staff to think and pray about “what we can learn from this. We have all been rushing around in today’s culture. Well now, we are forced to slow down. What might we do with the extra time we have on our hands this Lent? What might that look like?”

“We need to do what we can to be a support and a resource to the people of the diocese. How can we best serve them in this interesting, unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation?”

Pope Francis asks clergy and other ministers to practice precautions appropriately and to minister to the people, Bishop Zinkula said.

“This isn’t an ‘either or’ decision. It is a ‘both and’ decision. We continue to do our ministry, but we do it in a different way.” Among the different ways, setting up telephone trees to check in on parishioners to see how they are doing, live streaming Mass on social media, posting homilies, picking up groceries for someone who cannot get out of the house. Providing faith enrichment through web-based platforms, for example.

Closing the meeting with diocesan staff in prayer, Bishop Zinkula prayed “Let us remember in our prayers those who are suffering in this outbreak: the sick, the anxious, and all those most vulnerable to social disruption. Let us pray, too, for scientists, health professionals, public officials, and all who serve the common good in this difficult and uncertain time. … Keep us hopeful. Keep us united in love for each other and you.”

COVID-19 resources, including a prayer booklet that can be used at home.
Iowa Department of Public Health:
Center for Disease Control:

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