Donald Trump suggested Tuesday that he hopes to see churches “packed” for Easter in a few weeks, even as the coronavirus continues to spread across the country. Despite this, several Catholic archdioceses are canceling their public Holy Week and Easter Masses, and many congregations are moving them to the internet.
As he urged the country to reopen businesses and schools by April 12 — flouting public health recommendations — Trump told Fox News on Tuesday that he chose the date based on his “very special” relationship with the holiday.
“Wouldn’t it be great to have all the churches full?” Trump said. “You’ll have packed churches all over our country … I think it’ll be a beautiful time.”
Despite Trump’s call, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Wednesday that it would hold no public Masses for Holy Week or Easter Sunday.
“The Coronavirus (COVID 19) challenges us to celebrate the Mysteries of Christ for the glory of the Father and our sanctification with reasonable limitations and in cooperation with directives from government and health officials to stem the spread of the virus,” it explained.
In a seven-page directive, the archdiocese’s Office for Divine Worship stated, “All possible electronic and spiritual resources are to be made available to the faithful to enter into these days which celebrate the greatest mysteries of our redemption,” including livestreaming.
In an email, a spokesperson for the archdiocese noted that the governor had issued Pennsylvania’s public gathering limits.
“In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we are under stay-at-home orders, and large public gatherings are not permitted by directive of the governor,” he wrote. “The Archdiocese of Philadelphia continues to do everything possible to provide for the pastoral needs of the faithful in the five-county area while at the same time respecting and abiding by directives from government agencies and officials that are in place to provide for the health and welfare of the community-at-large.”
The New York Archdiocese has already canceled public Easter masses. So have the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut; the Diocese of Grand Rapids, Michigan; the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey; the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon; and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee said they “would also love to see its Churches packed for Easter. However, in our current situation, Wisconsin’s Governor [Tony Evers] has issued a ‘Safer at Home’ Executive Order through April 24. We continue to see our archdiocese and community impacted by the CoVID-19/Coronavirus. Our intention is to use sound judgement and common sense in making decisions for the pastoral care of our people without taking unnecessary risk, including for the many priests, and lay men and women who minister within the archdiocese.”
According to the Washington Examiner, it’s not just those archdioceses closing for Easter.
“Catholic and Episcopal dioceses in every state have canceled,” the paper reported Wednesday. “Many megachurches, as well as smaller congregations, have made similar decisions, advising their members to participate in worship through live-streamed services.”
In a March 17 letter published on the website of the Episcopal Church, presiding Bishop Michael Curry urged suspension of all “in-person gatherings for public worship, in most contexts, during the sacred time of Holy Week and Easter Day,” writing, “Because this is a global health crisis, the principles in this letter apply throughout The Episcopal Church, including beyond the United States.”
With a recent poll showing about half of Americans unwilling to attend church due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and with state restrictions on public gatherings still in effect, Trump’s vision of packed Easter services seems increasingly unlikely to come true.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.