The Archdiocese of Portland's Office of Divine Worship issued a memo to all priests in western Oregon Wednesday, March 18, addressing frequently asked questions amid the new coronavirus outbreak. It covered a range of liturgical considerations, including the celebration of weddings, funerals and Holy Week.

The memo said Archbishop Alexander Sample will begin celebrating a livestreamed Mass at St. Mary Cathedral in Northwest Portland each Sunday at 11 a.m. On Monday, March 16, the archbishop suspended all public Masses in the archdiocese, a decision he said was made “with a very heavy heart.”

The memo said all would-be Catholics, who typically receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil, will enter the church at a later time, once regular public Masses are permitted.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Oregon had a total of 75 cases of CONVID-19 and three people in the state had died from the virus. Worldwide there have been 8,937 virus-related deaths.

Gov. Kate Brown has limited gatherings of more than 25 people in the state, and President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recommended that gatherings should be of no more than 10 people.

The Archdiocese of Portland thus has recommended that gatherings be limited to 10 people and has encouraged anyone who is sick or feeling unwell to remain at home.

The memo to priests, sent Wednesday afternoon, reaffirmed that all public Masses are suspended. A public Mass is defined as one with the faithful in attendance and that is regularly scheduled in the parish.

The memo addressed private or closed Masses and stated that all priests are encouraged to celebrate a Mass daily, though not at the time of the regularly scheduled parish Masses. These Masses may have servers, readers and sacristans, yet the recommended limit of 10 people should be observed.

Funeral Masses may be celebrated. “It is recommended that only very close family attend within the limit of 10; in any case the limit of 25 must not be exceeded,” read the memo. A memorial Mass for the dead may be celebrated later. It was also recommended that the Mass not be publicized “so that other faithful do not attend and exceed the limit.”

Weddings may be celebrated within the recommended limit of 10 people, but the limit of 25 must not be exceeded. “It is suspected that most couples will want to postpone their wedding,” said the memo. Parishes are asked to be flexible in rescheduling.

Most parishes are keeping their regular confession schedules, as they typically do not attract more than 10 people at a time. However, priests were told that penance services could attract a large number of the faithful and should be canceled.

The memo said Archbishop Sample will celebrate the chrism Mass at St. Mary Cathedral, and it will be livestreamed. The Mass, held each year during Holy Week, includes the blessing and distribution of the holy oils that will be used throughout the region in the next year for baptisms, confirmations, anointing of the sick and other sacred rites.

“Some priests will be invited to concelebrate representing the archdiocesan presbyterate” at the chrism Mass, said the memo, but “this will not be open to the faithful.”

The holy oils, however, will be ordered as usual and will be distributed to each parish.

The liturgies of Holy Week will be celebrated at the cathedral by the archbishop and livestreamed, said the memo. Each parish should celebrate the Holy Week liturgies fully, according to the rites contained in the Roman Missal — even in the absence of the faithful. “Readers, servers and other necessary ministers may be present within the limit,” read the memo. Parishes are encouraged to livestream the liturgies.

All parishes are asked to keep their churches open for prayer for at least a fixed period of time each day. “The faithful are encouraged to make visits during these times,” said the memo.

Periods of exposition of the Blessed Sacrament also were encouraged, “again within the recommended 10 person limit and observing all social distancing norms.”

The document notes that the entire Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is arranged so that the sacraments will be celebrated during the Easter Vigil. “However because of serious pastoral needs another time can be selected,” it said.

Since performing these rites during the Easter Vigil in most cases gathers a crowd over the 25-person limit, pastors were asked to reschedule the rites once regular public Masses are allowed.

Priests were told that Communion services are not allowed “as they would attract crowds just as a public Mass would.”

Communion visits to the homebound “should be suspended due to the health risks to some of our most vulnerable parishioners,” read the memo. But parishes should establish regular telephone visits to those who are homebound “to help them stay prayerfully connected to the parish.”

Priests were asked to respond generously to those who are seriously ill and request the anointing and viaticum (the reception of Communion when there is probable danger of death). The memo said directions of all medical facilities should be strictly followed.

The archdiocesan document said the faithful are encouraged to make a spiritual communion on a regular basis while participation at Mass is impossible.

The memo concluded with a quote from St. Teresa of Avila, who wrote:

“When you do not receive Communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you.”

Priests and parishes were told to reach out to the Office of Divine Worship with any additional liturgical or sacramental questions.