The Bishop of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has lifted a diocesan ban on the public celebration of Mass, issued guidelines for distribution of Holy Communion, and told priests they may resume sacramental ministry if they follow state-ordered health precautions.
“We [as priests] have been called by Christ and ordained to serve the people of the Diocese of Las Cruces, to bring them hope and consolation during this difficult time,” Bishop Peter Baldacchino wrote in a letter dated April 15 and obtained by CNA.
The announcement came days after New Mexico’s governor banned gatherings of more than 5 people, a restriction Baldacchino said priests must observe, even as the bishop expressed his objection to it.
Baldacchino is the first U.S. bishop known to have amended a previously declared diocesan ban on public Masses since the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the U.S. last month.
The bishop also made provision for priests to resume weddings and funerals in accordance with state regulations on social distancing, and granted permission for them to be held outside on Church property for the duration of the pandemic.
Christopher Velasquez, communications director of the diocese, confirmed the letter to CNA on Wednesday evening.
Velasquez stressed the “essential ministry of hope” the Church is called to undertake during the pandemic. He added that the diocese urges all Catholics in at-risk demographics to exercise prudence, remain at home and watch the Mass on livestream whenever possible
In his letter, Baldacchino said that “At the outset of the pandemic, I ordered the priests of the Diocese of Las Cruces to suspend all public Masses as we assessed the situation and established a safe way to continue to bring Christ to the people, both through the Word of God and the Sacraments.”