Nearly a week after initial restrictions were put in the Catholic Diocese of Trenton (Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean and Burlington Counties), Bishop David O'Connell has given special dispensation to parishioners who are sick to stay home from mass on Sunday's.

The dispensation announcement comes after Governor Phil Murphy issued a statement recommending, not mandating, that anticipated crowds of 250 or more people be canceled due to the spread of the Covid-19/Coronavirus.

Catholic churches expect hundreds across several masses between the Saturday night vigil and Sunday morning masses.

Bishop O'Connell had asked pastors in each of the churches throughout the diocese to take precautionary measures to help keep everyone safe.

1.  People who have flu-like symptoms or who are otherwise feeling sick should not go to Mass or other Church gatherings.

2.  Priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should practice good hygiene, washing hands with soap and water or anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, before and after distributing Holy Communion.

3.  People are encouraged not to receive Holy Communion on the tongue; worthy, reverent reception by hand is preferred until otherwise notified.

4.  The practice of distributing the Precious Blood from the Chalice is suspended.

5.  The practice of exchanging the sign of peace by any physical contact (handshake, embrace, kissing) is suspended.

On Thursday, Bishop David O'Connell expanded his initial statement to say that it's okay to stay home from mass if you're feeling ill.

Catholics are required to attend weekly mass as noted in the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses.

Bishop O'Connell is easing the fears of parishioners concerned that missing mass would force them into committing the sin of not honoring the Lord's day by granting special dispensation (permission) to stay home.

"As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I am NOT instructing that parish churches be closed or weekend Masses be canceled in the Diocese of Trenton. All weekend Masses should be celebrated as regularly scheduled.  The Sacrament of Penance should also remain available.  Previous instructions issued regarding liturgical practices at Mass remain in effect.  

Those who are feeling sick or are in high risk groups should not celebrate or attend Mass and should stay home.

At the same time, I am granting a DISPENSATION from the OBLIGATION to attend weekend/Sunday Mass to all the Catholic faithful until further notice.  I recommend that the faithful pray and take advantage of/participate in Holy Mass that is broadcast on television.

Pastors should consider canceling other large gatherings of the faithful in parish churches or venues out of an abundance of caution. Families should be asked to limit attendance at other sacramental celebrations (e.g., Baptism, Confirmation) to immediate family only.

In light of the endurance of the virus on frequently touched surfaces – doors, pews, holy water fonts, etc. – please consider frequent, proper cleaning of these surfaces in our churches.

I cannot anticipate every (“what if ...”) question that might be asked. I simply instruct pastors and priests to use the very best judgment possible and to keep informed of any developments as they arise."

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