The Diocese of Duluth has lifted the obligation for area Catholics to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Mass is generally an obligation for Catholics on Sundays and certain other holy days, but is not binding in certain circumstances, such as those involving illness. Pastors also have discretion to "dispense" the obligation — an option invoked Friday by Diocesan Administrator James Bissonette.

"Masses will continue to be celebrated at the usual times in parishes and institutions," the diocese said in a statement. "But should a member of the faithful decide that attending a Mass would pose a risk either to themselves or to others, they can in good conscience refrain from attending."

Parishes are being urged not to distribute Holy Communion from the chalice and to limit physical contact during services in an effort to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission, the statement said.

The diocese said Bissonette made the decision after consulting with the Minnesota Catholic Conference, and a local infectious disease specialist. He also has encouraged parishes to cancel large gatherings through at least the end of March.

“As all of us rise to the challenges presented by the coronavirus, let us remember to pray for one another and to support one another as children of God and brothers and sisters of the Lord, most especially those affected by this virus and those who care for them,” he said.

This story was updated at 3:24 p.m. March 13 to clarify the Communion practices being recommended by the diocese.

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