Roman Catholic bishops exiting the plenary hall during their recent Plenary Assembly. (CBCPNews photo)

Public Catholic worship in some parts of the Philippines are suspended starting Saturday, March 14, after President Rodrigo Duterte declared a state of public health emergency due to the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Duterte placed the entire National Capital Region on “community quarantine” on March 13, Friday after the Department of Health (DOH) confirmed 52 cases and five deaths from COVID-19.  The order, which runs from March 15 up to April 14, also bans “planned or spontaneous” mass gatherings in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Catholic leaders of various dioceses in the Philippines have suspended the public celebration of Masses to discourage the gathering of large groups of people.  The following dioceses have cancelled the public celebration of Masses in their jurisdictions: in the NCR, (the Archdiocese of Manila and the dioceses of Kalookan, Cubao, Pasig, Parañaque), in Luzon (the Archdioceses of Lipa and Caceres, the dioceses of San Pablo, Legazpi, Balanga (Bataan), Urdaneta, San Jose (Nueva Ecija), Malolos, Ilagan ) in the Visayas (Bacolod and Palo, Leyte) and in Mindanao (Archdiocese of Davao and the dioceses of Tagum, Marbel, Surigao and Iligan).

Upon the recommendation of the CBCP, the laity are dispensed from their Sunday obligation of attending Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation while the ban on public Masses is still in effect.  Missing Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is a mortal sin in Catholic canon law.

The bishops who decided to cancel the public celebration of Masses in their dioceses cited their cooperation with the government’s call to temporarily stop holding events that attract a large number of people.

“We are enjoined to avoid large gatherings of people to avert the further spread of the virus. We heed this call not with panic but with care for charity to others and the common good,” Manila archdiocese apostolic administrator Bishop Broderick Pabillo said in his pastoral letter.

While Masses are suspended in these areas, the bishops encouraged their flock to watch online Masses on church-run stations like Radio Veritas and TV Maria, and on the social media pages of Catholic parish churches in their respective dioceses.  (Rommel F. Lopez)