By David Sedeño
The Texas Catholic
Masses and other activities at 79 Dallas Catholic churches have been canceled and 33 Diocese of Dallas Catholic schools will close for at least two weeks in an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Bishop Edward J. Burns made the announcement at a news conference on March 13, following a meeting with the Presbyteral Council, the committee of priests from throughout the nine-county diocese that serve as advisers to the bishop.
That means that through at least March 30, daily and Sunday Masses will be canceled, as well as activities at the parishes. Classes at schools that operate under the auspices of the Diocese of Dallas will be closed through March 27. Most of the Diocese of Dallas schools already have Spring Break scheduled for March 16-20. That would mean an additional week off, with some of those campuses converting the second week of closure to their online academic protocols. The Diocese of Dallas also closed its Pastoral Center through at least March 27.
The bishop has asked pastors to keep their doors open during regular hours for the faithful to enter for individual prayer and confessions at parishes are still allowed. The faithful should check with their parish office to determine dates and times of church openings and confession.
The bishop told reporters on March 13 that he could have simply dispensed with the obligation for the faithful in the diocese to attend Mass, but believed that many would still come to Mass.
“In order for all the Catholic faithful to live in peace and to live without any anxiety, as well as to remove any conflicted consciences of whether or not they should attend Mass these days, as the shepherd of the diocese and out of affection for the faithful, I make this decision so that they remain healthy and strong,” he said.
“Taking into account that large gatherings are a factor in the spread of this disease, to eliminate the spread, we need to eliminate the large gatherings,” the bishop said.
Despite the cancellation of Masses, dozens of people throughout the diocese went to parishes that remained open for individual prayer, reflection and Eucharistic adoration, with many keeping their distance from each other as health officials had recommended. Masses online are being offered by various parishes throughout the dioceses and Bishop Burns has encouraged the faithful to view them and to also pull together as a family to reaffirm their Catholic faith.
“I’m really sad about there being no Mass today,” said Dulce Robles, 42, who had gone to her parish, St. John the Apostle in Terrell, on Sunday, March 15. “It shouldn’t be that we’re separating. We should be coming together in prayer instead.
“I came to adoration because I see it more as an obligation to come and express my faith. Seeing the church empty makes me feel very sad.”
Robles, who attended adoration with her 22-year-old son, Emmanuel, said that she was also saddened that confirmation activities for her 16-year-old daughter, Dulce, were delayed by the decision as well. “We need more faith and love at this time not less. I am truly saddened that her experience of faith has been interrupted by these delays.”
The diocese joins several other dioceses across the country in curtailing its Masses, public gatherings and celebrations, and school academic and extra-curricular activities in an effort to curtail the spread of the virus.
The closure of the parishes means that the usual Sunday offerings, used to pay staff and other parish expenses, would be impacted. Bishop Burns asked that parishioners remain committed to their parish giving and that it could be done via online portals or that checks could be sent in via mail.
Additionally, during Lent, many parishes sponsor Friday night meals, such as Lenten fish fry dinners and those may also be canceled. The Knights of Columbus council at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Ferris will convert its fish fry dinner on March 27 to drive-thru only.
On March 14, Bishop Burns issued a decree that gave dispensation for Sunday Mass and Holy Days of obligation through March 30.
“Catholics of the Diocese of Dallas are under no obligation to attend Mass during this time period. Catholics of the Diocese of Dallas are especially under no obligation to travel to other dioceses in order to attend Mass,” the decree said.
The bishop has offered prayerful suggestions for those who cannot attend Mass such as devoting oneself to prayer and reflection, Lenten meditations, reading scripture, praying the rosary or novenas and other Catholic devotions. Mass will also be livestreamed from the cathedral every Sunday in both English and Spanish.
“In the Catholic tradition, we always identify the family as the domestic church,” he said. “It is in the family that parents hand on the faith to the next generation. I want the families to use these days to come together in prayer. We recognize that good can come out of adversity.
“Hopefully our families will grow stronger and be intentional in charting a course of action to ensure they grow stronger in faith and in their relationship with Jesus Christ,” he said.
The announcement comes on the heels of parish and diocesan school and private Catholic schools in Dallas closing their campuses earlier in the week.
The closures in the Diocese of Dallas began on March 11 when administrators at St. Rita Catholic Church and School community and Ursuline Academy of Dallas that their campuses would be closed after a person showing symptoms of COVID-19 had come into contact with individuals at those school and church communities.
Later that day, officials at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas and Cistercian Preparatory School in Irving also announced that they would be closed for the remainder of the week. Those private schools also are observing Spring Break from March 16-20. The decision on whether their campuses remain closed an additional week and perhaps switch to online protocols would be determined by each of their administrations.
On Sunday, March 15, Maria Rodriguez went to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Lancaster, her parish for more than 20 years.
“Normally at noon, this church is full and there’s a line of people stretching out the door. We usually have around 600 people for the noon Spanish Mass,” she said. “A lot of people are still showing up, looking to attend Mass, because they didn’t know. They want to be faithful.
“It’s important for us to remain open, even if just for adoration, for the people who want to be truly faithful,” she said. “I am concerned about the coronavirus. I have asthma so that’s a concern. I understand why the bishop decided to do what he did. Everyone has to be careful.”
Since the announcement of the closures, restrictions that have been placed by federal, state and local officials on the maximum number allowed per gathering have impacted businesses and organizations and certainly churches.
Confirmation at San Juan Diego Catholic Church was permitted on March 14 because of the late notice of cancellation of activities, but others have been suspended.
Bishop Burns met with priests serving in the diocese on March 16, 17 and 18. Pastors will be working with their staffs to continue to meet the needs of parishioners. Please check with individual parishes concerning previously scheduled baptisms and other liturgies.
At St. Monica Catholic Church in Dallas, Father Michael Guadagnoli, Father Wade Bass and several staff members were working diligently through the day on Sunday, March 15.
St. Monica is expanding its Eucharistic adoration schedule, is streaming its Masses on its website and continues to offer confession on Thursday nights. Staffers were preparing correspondence to those enrolled in their religious education classes in an effort of keeping them up to date.
“We want to make sure we are here for the people. We really want the people to access Our Lord and the Most Blessed Sacrament,” Father Guadagnoli said. “We also have some material about spiritual Communion. It’s a great teaching opportunity to teach about spiritual Communion, to be with Our Lord in spirit.
“We offer up this time, certainly of crisis; this time of prayer, this time we pray for hope and we pray for the guidance that Our Lord can give.”