Local religious institutions, including the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Boston, New England’s largest mosque, and an organization comprised of more than 600 Protestant churches, in the region are canceling in-person worship services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, said he was suspending all daily and Sunday Masses in a Friday announcement.
"This decision to temporarily suspend the daily and Sunday Mass is motivated by an abundance of caution and concern for those most vulnerable and the need to do our part to help limit and mitigate the spread of the illness,” O’Malley said in a Friday statement.
The directive goes into effect immediately and applies to all religious services in the Roman Catholic archdiocese. In announcing the decision on Friday, O’Malley also dispensed Catholics from their obligation to attend Mass.
O’Malley’s office estimates there are 1.6 million Catholics in the archdiocese. That office estimates that about 280,000 people attend Mass in the archdiocese on a weekly basis.
The cardinal’s statement came hours after Governor Charlie Baker announced that the state was banning gatherings of more than 250 people in Massachusetts, in the latest step to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Baker’s decision came as the number of coronavirus cases in the state continued to climb. State public health officials on Friday afternoon announced that the tally had jumped to 123, up from 108 the day before.
Other institutions also suspended services. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, which serves more than 1,500 congregants, closed its Roxbury and Cambridge locations for Jumma congregation on Friday, and indicated that the weekly prayer would be suspended “until further notice.”
“We fully realize the severity of the decision and what it means to our community, but we are also committed to your safety and society,” read a statement on the center’s site. “We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and reassess our decision accordingly.”
The center said it would continue to be open for the five daily prayers, although it discouraged people exhibiting cold-like symptoms from joining the congregation and recommended that those vulnerable to coronavirus and their relatives to pray at home.
The Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ, which includes 609 churches in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, has recommended its churches suspend in-person public worship for the time being, said the Rev. Marilyn B. Kendrix.
Kendrix, who is a bridge conference minister in the United Church of Christ, said “We have lots of people who are 60 and over who are at risk of having a poor result if they catch the coronavirus."
“It’s too much of a risk to bring all these generations together to sing and hug and all the things that go on in worship when folks love one another,” she said.
Kendrix said the conference’s churches are exploring ways to use social media and streaming technology to broadcast services to congregants.
“We feel like there is a way that we can still come together to worship God without putting at risk our most vulnerable population,” she said.
In Boston, the Roman Catholic archdiocese also encouraged its members to watch Masses via CatholicTV streaming options. That service broadcasts daily Masses out of a Watertown chapel.
“I think it’s going to be a great help to get people through this crisis,” said Bishop Robert Reed, who serves as president of the CatholicTV network.
He added, “Being excluded from being able to pray together with your parish community, these are things that keep us going. It’s a pretty significant loss.”
While there will be no in-person Masses in the immediate future for the archdiocese, O’Malley asked that “all parishes provide for their churches be open every day during reasonable hours in order that the Catholic faithful and other members of the community can have the opportunity to visit the church for times of prayer.”
The archdiocese also announced on Friday that its parish, elementary, and high schools will be closed from March 16 to March 27.
The Globe reported earlier in the week that Jewish synagogues in the area also canceled large public services for this weekend, including major congregations such as Temple Emanuel in Newton and Temple Beth Zion in Brookline. At Temple Emeth, also in Brookline, longtime Rabbi Alan Turetz said the decision to cancel Shabbat services on Friday night and Saturday morning this weekend was both difficult and unprecedented.
“We feel that these are, God willing, short-term protective measures that will keep everyone well in the long run, and it’s the long run that we’re looking at,” said Turetz, who has been rabbi at the temple since 1977.
Brian MacQuarrie of Globe staff contributed to this report.