La Crosse, Winona-Rochester dioceses cancel public Masses until May

Churches open for private prayer despite unprecedented decisions because of coronavirus
St. Joseph Workman
(Photo from St. Joseph the Workman Facebook page)

The bishops of the La Crosse and Winona-Rochester dioceses have taken the unprecedented move of canceling public Masses for weeks because of health concerns related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The cancellations will leave the pews empty during Holy Week, which normally have major services on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, as well as Easter — one of the holiest days of the Catholic Church year and a holy day that rivals Christmas for attendance. The bishops’ decisions, adhering to state and federal recommendations banning large gatherings, also lifted the penalty for not attending Mass on Sundays.

A letter Tuesday from Bishop William Callahan to Catholics in the 19-county La Crosse Diocese also said fish fries and other parish gatherings are canceled.

“Please note, however, churches will remain open for private prayer,” Callahan said. “I am urging the faithful to remember in their prayers all of our brothers and sisters whose personal lives and the lives of their families have been affected by this disease.”

Anyone with a particular prayer intention should send it to him at to the diocese’s website.

“At this point we are hopeful to resume public Mass by 1 May,” Bishop Callahan wrote. “As you know, these plans and regulations change every day. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to shorten this time frame or any of these regulations. This, of course, is unprecedented in our lives and we
rely on the providence of Almighty God and His Holy Mother.

In addition, a diocesan news release noted that live and prerecorded Sunday Masses also are available in a specific area of the website, the diocesan YouTube channel, Facebook, and televised on the following TV channels:

  • La Crosse — Channel 19, at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
  • Eau Claire — Channel 18, at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
  • Marshfield — Public access Channel 989, at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Stevens Point — Public access Channel 984 at Noon and 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
  • Wausau — Cable and satellite — Channel 12 at 6:30 a.m. Sunday.
  • Wausau — Public access Channel 980, at 6 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.
  • Wisconsin Rapids — Public access Channel 985 and Channel 3 at 6  a.m. and 1 pm.  Sunday.

In the Winona-Rochester Diocese, headquartered in Winona and covering the 20 counties across the southern tier of Minnesota Bishop John Quinn decreed that all public Masses will be suspended from March 20 through May 15.

Describing the suspension as “the most difficult decision I have ever made,” Quinn said it is “based on my desire to protect our people as advised by public officials and health care experts. By not coming together and having personal contact, we hope to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Even with the suspension of public Masses, Quinn noted that the more fundamental obligation of keeping holy the Lord’s Day still remains.

He encouraged the faithful to “take advantage of the many Masses that are broadcast on radio and TV in English and in Spanish and unite yourself spiritually in deep communion with the Lord.”

During the interim, Bishop Quinn said:

  • Priests will continue to offer daily a private Mass for the intentions of their parishioners.
  • Churches may remain open for private prayer.
  • Sacramental ministry will be available for the Sacrament of Penance, Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum, on an individual basis.
  • Funeral Masses, baptisms and weddings will be allowed, but only a small number of immediate family members are to attend.