GREEN BAY, Wisconsin — Due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, Bishop David L. Ricken of Green Bay has ordered that all perpetual adoration chapels in the diocese be closed, and all public eucharistic adoration be suspended. This prohibition goes into effect at midnight March 20.

Father John Girotti, vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, sent the message out to all six eucharistic chapels in the Diocese of Green Bay March 18. Girotti also serves as Ricken’s delegate to the eucharistic chapels.

The announcement came one day after Ricken ordered the suspension of all public celebration of the Mass and most other liturgical celebrations – including Stations of the Cross, a popular Lenten prayer practice.

“The congregating of people is the problem,” Girotti told The Compass, Green Bay’s diocesan newspaper, in a March 18 interview.

“There’s the problem of close quarters. Adoration chapels are very tiny,” he said. “You may have just one or two people, but they are right on top of each other. … It’s good to have a little more space.”

The closing of the eucharistic chapels came about after several pastors in the churches where these are located expressed concern. However, while the chapels will be closed, Ricken asked that churches remain open for private prayer before the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.

Girotti acknowledged that people will express concern that “at the very time we need our eucharistic Lord the most, we’re keeping people from him. The answer to that is we are keeping the churches open.”

The coronavirus pandemic is, of course, a time when people would naturally turn to the church to gather in prayer. However, with the high risk of communication of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are recommending that no more than 50 people gather in one place. The White House has recommended that no more than 10 gather at one time.

This is why public Masses have been suspended in the Diocese of Green Bay, and many other dioceses across the nation, like the Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee.

Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding wrote to Catholics in announcing the suspension of public Masses there, effective March 17: “Please know of my sincere love and concern for all of you and your families in this uncertain time. My thoughts and prayers are with you, as well as with the sick, the elderly, and those who are especially vulnerable. … Let us continue to entrust ourselves to the Blessed Mother who enfolds us in her protecting veil.

He said public celebrations of Mass and all other gatherings in the Diocese of Nashville are suspended through April 3. He also issued a blanket dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass through April 3 for all Catholics in the diocese. Catholic schools in the diocese also will be closed through April 3.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and may extend this timeframe if necessary,” Spalding wrote. “Weddings, funerals and baptisms may proceed in consultation with your pastors, but you will be asked to limit attendance to immediate family only.”

Priests in the diocese will continue to offer Mass in private for Catholics and their intentions and “are available for your pastoral needs,” Spalding added.

In Wisconsin, Ricken will celebrate Sunday Mass at 10:30 a.m. on WFRV-TV. People are asked to make this a time of “spiritual communion.” Priests also will celebrate private Sunday Masses “pro populo” (for the people.) Additionally, several parishes will livestream Masses.

“The fidelity of the people, the love of people for eucharistic adoration is a great blessings,” Girotti told The Compass. “And it will come back. It will come back.”

Several perpetual adoration chapel coordinators in the Diocese of Green Bay and adorers were sad to see the chapels close, but understood the reason for closing them.

Kathie Reed, coordinator of the Divine Mercy Adoration Chapel in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which draws on adorers from all the city’s parishes, said adorers in Oshkosh are “hoping this thing flies over fast so we can open our chapels.”

“We are sad about the whole thing, but we want everybody to be safe,” she said.

Craig Sachs, a member of St. Margaret Mary Parish in Neenah, Wisconsin, is a frequent visitor to Neenah’s Twin Cities Perpetual Adoration Chapel.

“As a longtime adorer, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the fact that the Blessed Sacrament will not be available to the faithful,” he said. “The cornerstone of the Catholic faith is the Eucharist and not being able to receive it or have it exposed for adoration is a huge void.”

“We have some very sad adorers, they are grieving,” said Mary Beth Meehl, coordinator of the Chapel of Divine Mercy at St. Pius X Church in Appleton, Wisconsin. The chapel has about 323 adorers, she said.

Meehl reminds them that “you can talk to Jesus any time of the day. He’s present in Scripture and I’m encouraging people to pray Scripture, to learn ‘lectio divina,'” a contemplative way of reading the Bible.

She said she understands Bishop Ricken’s concerns about the tight, closed quarters of adoration chapels. “I trust the bishop and he’s made this decision. I know how much the bishop loves the Eucharist and the Blessed Mother. He needs our prayers. This had to be difficult for him.”

Kasten is associate editor of The Compass, newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay. Contributing to this story were Sam Lucero, news and information manager at The Compass, and Brad Birkholz, freelance photographer for The Compass; and the staff of the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville.

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