Pupils of Ariake-nishi Gakuen Elementary School wear face masks during an event on Feb. 25 marking six months until the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. (Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP)
In response to the spread of the Covid-19 virus in Japan, Tokyo Archdiocese has announced the suspension of public Masses from Feb. 27 to March 14.
Archbishop Isao Kikuchi issued a directive on Feb. 25 to suspend public Masses, except for small communities, for two weeks from the day after Ash Wednesday.
The archdiocesan policy is in response to the Japanese government’s basic policy for measures to protect against the outbreak of Covid-19 that sought reconsideration of holding large gatherings. The Japan Professional Football League, or J-League, has postponed all matches until March 15.
As of Feb. 25, 160 people in Japan had been infected and one had died. This number does not include 691 confirmed cases on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess. Confirmed cases in the northern island of Hokkaido and Tokyo have each exceeded 20 infected patients.
“It is not easy for the Church to make this decision to suspend Masses, which should be offered daily,” Archbishop Kikuchi said in his statement, asking for people’s understanding of the gravity of the situation that led to such a decision.
“Recalling the words of our Lord commanding ‘Do this in memory of me’ would lead us to think that the suspension of the Mass is for us a spiritual defeat. We must offer more prayers than usual during this time of crisis.”
All the faithful in the Archdiocese of Tokyo will be exempted from their obligation to attend Sunday Masses on March 1 and 8. “I recommend everyone find time to read the Bible and offer prayers,” Archbishop Kikuchi said.
The archdiocese is looking at the possibility of broadcasting Masses via the internet. “In such a case, I encourage participation by viewing the live Mass in the act of spiritual communion,” the archbishop said.
Unless there is a major change in the situation, the Mass suspension will be lifted after March 15. In that case, the archbishop asked that Catholics continue to take note of measures recommended in earlier advisories issued by the archdiocese on Jan. 31 and Feb. 20.
Sapporo Diocese, which covers Hokkaido, has issued the same instruction and the 14 other dioceses in Japan are expected to soon issue directives about the cancellation of Sunday Masses.