Around two lakh Roman Catholic Christians in the city and on its outskirts prayed in their homes on Friday, a prayer that is traditionally held in churches every Friday from 40 days before Easter.
On Friday morning, Archbishop Thomas D’Souza issued a circular asking the priests of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Calcutta to suspend all public religious services in the 65-odd churches from Friday to March 31.
“Public celebration (with a congregation) of the Holy Mass or Way of the Cross or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the parish churches will remain suspended so as to avoid large gatherings,” archbishop Thomas D’Souza said in the circular.
“In the wake of coronavirus pandemic, keeping in mind the health concerns of us all, the following preventive measures will be effective in the archdiocese of Calcutta from 20 March 2020 till 31 March 2020.”
The Calcutta diocese of the Church of North India also issued a circular asking all churches under it to suspend the services on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays till March 31.
Every Friday from 40 days before Easter, Roman Catholic Christians observe the Way of The Cross or the Stations of the Cross celebrations in church.
For the first time in several decades, the celebrations will have to be observed in the homes of the individual members of the community.
A series of 14 pictures portraying the scenes before Christ’s crucifixion are kept in the church. The 14 stations focus on specific events of the last day of Christ. Specific prayers are recited at each station and the individual member moves to the next station until all the 14 stations are complete, a priest said. The archbishop in the circular has said that all parish churches will remain open during the day for private prayer.
“Priests will celebrate Holy Mass privately. Catholics may go to the church for personal prayer and spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament privately, but maintaining adequate distance from others,” the archbishop has said in the circular. “All will pray at home with their families.”
But several priests said prayer meetings were held in some churches, each of which was attended by more than 50 members.
The archbishop has also said in the circular that those who have fever, cough or cold or any other sickness must stay at home and not visit the church or any other public place.
All parish meetings, seminars, retreats and choir practice have been suspended but priests will be available for Sacrament of the Sick and Holy Communion to the Sick.
The archbishop has also said in the circular that keeping in mind the request of the Prime Minister, all, especially those above 60 years, will follow self-imposed isolation at home. “All will observe a Janata Curfew on Sunday. At 5pm will come out to the entrance to their homes, and express their gratitude to the healthcare workers for their tireless and dedicated service in the care of the sick, by clapping hands or ringing of bells. The Church bells too could be rung at this time,” the archbishop has written in the circular.
On Sunday, the Holy Mass will be live on social media from the Archbishop’s House.
“We are avoiding big congregations. But keeping in mind the situation, we are finding out ways to pray together,” said Father Dominic Gomes, the vicar general of the archdiocese of Calcutta.
On March 10, the archbishop had sent a letter to all churches and institutions to take steps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Priests have been asked to avoid blessing people on the forehead.