Coronavirus Update 3/17/2020

March 17, 2020 
Dear Friends in Christ,
Every year, the season of Lent reconnects us with the deepest thirst of the human heart: to know that God loves us, to know that God is present as we face our trials. When unexpected things happen, they can reveal to us the strength of our faith, or its fragility; the depth of our hope, or its frailty; the vibrancy of our love, or its feebleness. During this season of Lent we are facing an unprecedented trial with the COVID-19 virus. This pandemic calls for extraordinary measures to protect the common good, especially the most vulnerable among us.

I am grateful for those of you who observed my directive to stay home last Sunday and gather as a family for prayer and to watch the Mass via live broadcast. We rely on our faith in times such as these. I understand how difficult it is to not have access to the Eucharist on a Sunday, but we must continue to cooperate with orders issued by government and health care officials. Hopefully, our efforts will slow the spread of this virus so that we can once again gather together as quickly as possible.

Governor Whitmer’s most recent executive order became effective today, March 17; it prohibits all gatherings of more than 50 people in a shared indoor space. Therefore, the Diocese of Grand Rapids has decided to temporarily suspend ALL public Masses and all other liturgical and devotional services, effective immediately, through Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020. With this
suspension, all Catholics within the territory of the Diocese of Grand Rapids are granted a dispensation from their obligation of attending Sunday Mass through April 5. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals may continue to be celebrated outside of Mass with no more than 50 people in attendance. Our March 26 evening of penance, “The Light is ON for You” as well as
individual confession times may continue as scheduled.

Our Catholic schools remain closed and all parish faith formation classes remain suspended until at least April 5 in accordance with Governor Whitmer’s earlier mandate. These have been difficult, but necessary decisions to make. The diocesan leadership team has been thoughtful and prudent in providing assistance to me. Science and recent experience have proven that participation in public gatherings significantly increases the risk of spreading this virus. As Catholics we must stand in solidarity with others and work together for the common good. We must recognize the value of every life and work together to protect all life.
During Lent we focus on the penitential practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. This time away from the reception of the Eucharist can help us gain a greater awareness of the importance the Eucharist has in our lives. May our spiritual hunger make us yearn for the time when we will be able to gather around the table of our Lord once again!

You are encouraged to unite yourself with Jesus during this time by making a spiritual Communion. I invite families to use this time to pray together. Let us renew our efforts to turn to the Lord. Spiritual resources can be found on the diocesan website, Our churches will remain open so that individuals and families may come for private prayer to experience the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

Our priests will continue to celebrate Mass each day without a congregation. Christ remains present to us in various ways, especially in the Eucharist. Our hope is in God who promises to journey with us. May our love, our care, for one another be a reminder, and a proof, that yes, indeed, God is in our midst!
Let us continue to pray for all who are affected by COVID-19, for our health care officials and medical professionals who are working diligently to protect us during this time. 

Let us turn to the calm and reassuring presence of our Blessed Mother during this time of uncertainty:

Holy Virgin of Guadalupe,
Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas.
We fly to you today as your beloved children.
We ask you to intercede for us with your Son,
as you did at the wedding in Cana.

Pray for us, loving Mother,
and gain for our nation and world,
and for all our families and loved ones,
the protection of your holy angels,
that we may be spared the worst of this illness.

For those already afflicted,
we ask you to obtain the grace of healing and deliverance.
Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable and fearful,
wipe away their tears and help them to trust.

In this time of trial and testing,
teach all of us in the Church to love one another and to be patient and kind.
Help us to bring the peace of Jesus to our land and to our hearts.

We come to you with confidence,
knowing that you truly are our compassionate mother,
health of the sick and cause of our joy.

Shelter us under the mantle of your protection,
keep us in the embrace of your arms,
help us always to know the love of your Son, Jesus. Amen.

Prayer of Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and president of the United 
States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak
Bishop of Grand Rapids

Frequently Asked Questions regarding COVID-19

These questions are answered based on recommendations from local and state officials as of March 17, 2020. Answers are subject to change as new guidelines are issued and we receive more information.

Will I still be able to have a funeral Mass for my loved one?

It is important that we mourn with families. For the time being, all funerals are to be celebrated without Mass and limited to 50 or fewer attendees. A committal service at the cemetery may be celebrated outdoors with a memorial Mass to be celebrated at a later date. This will allow family and friends to participate in a Eucharist offered for their departed loved ones when the celebration of public Mass resumes.

May I have a funeral luncheon at the parish? 


Will I still be able to celebrate my wedding at Church?

A wedding occurring between March 17 and April 5, 2020, should be celebrated without Mass and follow the current guidelines of fewer than 50 people in attendance. Weddings scheduled after April 5 will be re-evaluated in light of future health mandates. Please contact your parish office.

Is my parish food pantry open? 

Parish food pantries should remain open at this time and follow instructions from local and state health officials.

Is our evening of penance: “The Light is ON for You” still scheduled as normal? Yes, “The Light is ON for You” and individual confessions should continue as scheduled at this time.

Without public Mass on Palm Sunday, will I still be able to receive blessed palms? 

Yes. Arrangements for the provisions of palms have not been finalized. The diocesan Office for Worship will work with parishes to find a way to distribute blessed palms in a safe and reasonable manner.

Will we have our usual liturgies for Holy Week and Easter? 

Liturgies have been suspended through April 5, Palm Sunday. The diocese will be issuing an update for Holy Week and Easter in light of any further directives from state officials.

What is meant by “our priests will continue to celebrate Mass each day without a congregation?” 

Every Mass is, essentially, a communal act of prayer. Not all celebrations of Mass, however, are announced and accessible to the broader public. It is in this sense that our priests will be offering Mass privately over the coming weeks. The Church normally requires that the communal nature of the Mass be expressed through the participation of at least one other person with the priest celebrant. However, current norms in place to protect public health provide just cause for celebrating without the participation of another member of the faithful (can. 906). Therefore, for the time being, Mass will not be celebrated at the parish’s regularly scheduled times and the lay faithful will not be informed of the time of celebration. Again, these restrictions are meant to safeguard public health. Priests may not invite the laity to attend their private Mass.

May parishes find ways to organize more public Mass times and resume Masses with fewer than 50 participants? 

No. The temporary cancellation of ALL public Masses in the diocese stands through April 5, 2020. The diocesan directives are meant to eliminate contact between people.

May the clergy distribute Holy Communion outside Mass for the faithful who come to churches to pray? 


Are the sick who are homebound able to continue to receive Holy Communion? 

No. Viaticum, however, may be taken to the dying. Our priests will continue to celebrate the sacrament of the anointing of the sick for those who begin to be in danger due to sickness or old age.


For when you are unable to attend Mass.

What is spiritual communion? St. Thomas Aquinas described it as “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” at a time or in circumstances when we cannot receive him in sacramental Communion.

In his encyclical, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia” (“A Eucharistic Church”), in April 2003, Pope John Paul II encouraged the practice of spiritual communion, “which has been a wonderful part of Catholic life for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life.”

Spiritual communion isn’t as much a part of the Catholic vocabulary and consciousness as it was in the past, though it is just as real an opportunity for Eucharistic grace as it ever was. 

No particular prayer or formulary is required, though there are acts of spiritual communion in Catholic prayer books to help focus a proper intention. Here is one that we would suggest:

My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive You sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there, and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.