Decree Establishing Pastoral Directives During the Coronavirus Pandemic

by Msgr. Robert Siler

In accord with Canon 223 (CIC), in order to promote the common good of the Clergy and Faithful of the Diocese of Yakima during the state and national emergencies declared by civil authorities due to the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, I, the Most Rev. Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima, state the following:


On March 13, 2020, after Rome’s churches all were shuttered for a brief time due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis stated at morning Mass:

“May the Lord give [pastors] the strength, and also the capacity, to choose the best ways to help. … For this reason, let’s pray that the Holy Spirit give pastors the capacity for pastoral discernment, so they find measures that don’t leave the holy faithful people of God alone, so the people of God feel accompanied by their pastors and draw comfort from the Word of God, the sacraments, and prayer.”


Churches in Rome began to reopen within a day or two for private prayer, with prudent guidelines in place to help prevent the spread of the disease; and that in the Diocese of Yakima we want our people to know that Christ is here for them through us as his mystical body, the church, even though public celebration of the Eucharist is temporarily suspended (both Sunday Mass and daily Mass); and that we are encouraging everyone to remember the common good as part of our love of God and neighbor as we do our part to slow down this pandemic;


Church is Open
I am continuing my suspension of all public Masses in the Diocese of Yakima. Priests should offer a non-public Mass regularly, if not daily, to pray for the people. An acolyte or deacon may assist, and If this Mass is livestreamed, one additional person may assist to help. Pastors should let parishioners know when the church will be available for private prayer and when priests will be in the church for any pastoral or sacramental needs. However, we must always encourage any persons whose health is vulnerable to remain at home out of concern for them. When the church is open, pastors should have personnel (staff or volunteer) available to ensure the church remains sanitized and proper social distance is observed at all times. (NO LONGER PERMISSIBLE DUE TO WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTIVES) Click here to read the Washington State Department of Health Guidelines for sanitation and social distancing.

While the church does remain open, due to the highly contagious nature of this virus, parish leaders should specifically avoid any communication that would draw a crowd at any particular moment. We do not want to bring vulnerable people together or create an environment in which this highly contagious virus could be transferred from one person to the next. The temporary suspension of Mass also means that we should not be gathering people in any way for a Communion service. Please do not encourage or publicize efforts for the public distribution of the Eucharist in any way. This specifically applies to any “drive by” Communion services or visits to the church during a short period of time. Instead we encourage expanding our homebound ministry to connect with people who are seeking pastoral care. Now more than ever we need to be acutely aware of those who may need our outreach. During extended periods of Eucharistic Adoration, ensure that directions are in place to help ensure proper social distancing.  At least until March 31, do not allow more than 10 people to be in the Church at any one time, unless there is a serious pastoral reason. When offering the Sacrament of Penance, rearrange the Reconciliation Room or create a temporary reconciliation space elsewhere in the parish facilities or on the grounds.  It is essential that the privacy of confessions be assured, in accordance with church law.  The space used should allow proper social distancing.  Sanitize the room appropriately afterward. (NO LONGER PERMISSIBLE DUE TO WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTIVES)

Anointing and Communion for the Sick and Homebound
When responding to a request for Anointing of the Sick, or for the reception of Holy Communion, priests, deacons and parish extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion should make prudent inquiries as to whether the sick or homebound person has experienced any recent cold or flu-like symptoms. Ask if they have a protective mask.  If not, consider purchasing a supply of masks and offer one to the person being visited, to help prevent the transmission of disease through coughing or sneezing. Maintain the appropriate social distance, except as required in the Rites being celebrated (anointing and giving communion). Wash hands appropriately before and after a visit. If clergy or communion ministers are themselves at increased risk, they should ask someone else to make the visit, if possible. Click here to read related guidelines for Sacramental Penance during the Pandemic.

Pastors should reiterate to their parishioners that through this decree I am continuing to grant a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in the Diocese of Yakima, for both the faithful of the diocese and for travelers.

Non-public Mass may include up to 10 persons (including the celebrant), if they are assisting in the livestreaming of a Holy Day of Obligation or Sunday Mass (for example, musicians, a videographer, acolyte, and deacon). Priests must avoid any appearance of showing favoritism to parishioners in these Masses. Exceptions can be made to invite parishioners for a serious pastoral reason. Examples could include a Mass of Viaticum held in the home of a dying parishioner.  For other exceptions, contact me for permission. Through this decree I am also delegating Msgr. Robert Siler to give permission on a case by case basis. (NO LONGER PERMISSIBLE DUE TO WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTIVES)

While all public Masses have been suspended out of concern for public good, a few pastoral exceptions are permitted and outlined below:

Funeral Services
Priests and deacons may lead funeral services in funeral home chapels or at cemeteries, provided they have been invited by the family, and in consultation with the funeral home and cemetery directors to ensure these services can be held safely, following the approved group size, social distancing and health guidelines. Clergy are to exercise sound prudential judgment about their participation, particularly in cases of priests and deacons who are more vulnerable to illness due to age or chronic illness. When possible, funeral services should be postponed until the current restrictions have been relaxed, since funeral services are meant to be liturgical actions of the Church, praying together for the deceased and their families as a community of faith. (Amended March 29, 2020)

We also realize that weddings have been scheduled and preparations have been made. We will allow the celebration of weddings to take place, but pursuant to the same pastoral requirements that no one besides immediate family members of the bride and groom may attend the wedding in the church, along with the two official witnesses. Again, at least until March 31, the limit of 10 persons should be strictly observed. With both of these pastoral exceptions, it is necessary that vulnerable persons are encouraged to stay home out of concern for their health and that a safe social distance be observed between members of different households. A list of health conditions that may make persons more susceptible to serious effects of a COVID-19 infection appears at the end of this letter. Remember that generally speaking, older persons also are more vulnerable. (NO LONGER PERMISSIBLE DUE TO WASHINGTON STATE DIRECTIVES)

Religious Education
RCIA classes may continue subject to the guidelines for group size and distancing. All in-person catechetical classes for children and youth are suspended until further notice. The Diocese will work with directors of catechetical programs to provide some level of home education, particularly for children and youth finishing their preparations for First Communion and Confirmation.  The Diocese signed an agreement March 16 to provide FORMED to every parish in the Diocese for the next two years, with a significant discount for the third year for those which continue to participate. Every pastor will be contacted over the next two-three weeks to begin the process of making the resources that FORMED offers available to all parishioners. The Diocese will provide promotional material to parishes. Parishioners should be able to access this resource after April 1, if not sooner.

Chrism Mass
The March 31 Day of Reflection for Clergy is cancelled.  The Chrism Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. that day by the Bishop and the deans of the Diocese, along with a cantor, musician and videographer so that the Mass can be livestreamed.  The deans will be responsible for distributing the Sacred Oils to the parishes in their deaneries. Suggestions will be offered for priests to renew their priestly promises in an appropriate way that day. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

Palm Sunday
Unless the current restrictions and guidelines have been lifted, this Mass will be celebrated in a non-public way.  It should be livestreamed if possible. Palms should be blessed and parishioners notified of how they can be received throughout the weekend and early in Holy Week. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

Sacred Triduum

Holy Thursday
Again, unless the current restrictions and guidelines have been lifted, Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be celebrated in a non-public way.  As the Roman Missal permits a morning Mass “in case of genuine necessity,” the Mass will be celebrated in the morning. It should be livestreamed if possible. The Washing of Feet is omitted.  The sacrament will be reserved in the church and available for adoration by parishioners in small groups (no more than 10) throughout the day. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

 Good Friday
Again, unless the current restrictions and guidelines have been lifted, the Passion of the Lord will be celebrated in a non-public way at 3 p.m. It should be livestreamed if possible. At the end of the service, at the pastor’s discretion, a cross may be set up in the church for public veneration in a way that does not allow it to be touched (i.e., avoiding the traditional gesture of kissing the cross).  Parishioners in small groups (no more than 10 at a time) may be allowed to venerate the cross through the afternoon and evening. Pastors should encourage parishioners to venerate the crosses they maintain already in their homes, and consider livestreaming such devotions as the Stations of the Cross. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

Easter Vigil
As this celebration is to take place entirely at night, this Mass will be celebrated beginning no earlier than 8 p.m. (15 minutes after sunset). Unless the current restrictions and guidelines have been lifted, only those to be baptized or received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, and their sponsors and immediate family may participate, and then only if the group size will not exceed 50 persons, with proper distancing. The preference for attendance is first for those to be fully initiated (baptism, confirmation and eucharist). The Mass should be livestreamed if possible. A sufficient amount of water should be blessed so that parishioners who come to pray in the church during times of Adoration on Easter Sunday may take water home in sanitary containers they bring themselves. Parishes may choose to buy small holy water containers to make available to families. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

Easter Sunday
Again, unless the current restrictions and guidelines have been lifted, Masses this day will be celebrated in a non-public way. The only exceptions will be Masses for those being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, their sponsors and immediate family, and then only if the group size will not exceed 50 persons, with proper distancing. Such a Mass should be livestreamed if possible. All Catholics who have not fulfilled their obligation to receive the Eucharist at least once in the year prior to this day are dispensed. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

The first celebration scheduled in the Diocese is April 15 in Grandview.  A decision as to whether a celebration will be postponed will be made one week prior to each scheduled Confirmation Mass. Given the current restrictions on group sizes, it is likely that many will need to be postponed.  Pastors and confirmation coordinators, particularly in parishes with small churches, are asked to research other possible venues for the Masses where proper distancing can be maintained. Consideration also will be given to permitting pastors to confirm their parishioners at several small Masses throughout the Easter season. (AMENDED IN MARCH 27 DECREE)

* * *

Many of these directives will no doubt be difficult to implement.  They will in many cases be met with anger and resistance by parishioners, and perhaps clergy as well.  I am morally certain, however, that they are necessary in order to promote the common good, and I remind the clergy and the faithful of the diocese of their obligation under Canon 32 (CIC) to obey them.  Clergy should contact me if they have any questions or concerns, or need permission for an exception to be made.  Again, I have also delegated Msgr. Robert Siler to provide guidance and permission on my behalf.

These directives will remain in force in the Diocese of Yakima until partially or fully revoked.

Given this day, March 19, 2020, at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Yakima
on the Feast of Saint Joseph, the principal patron of the Diocese.

St. Joseph, pray for us!