In a news release, Diocesan Administrator the Rev. James B. Bissonette extended the measures the Diocese of Duluth has taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic through May 4.

The diocese covers northeastern Minnesota, including churches in Aitkin, Baxter, Brainerd, Crosby, Crosslake, Deerwood, Emily, Fort Ripley, Garrison, Hackensack, Longville, McGregor, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Pine River and Walker.

In a letter to the clergy and faithful of the diocese, Bissonette said public celebration of Mass will continue to be suspended, the obligation to attend Mass continues to be dispensed, and gatherings of more than 10 people are canceled. However, priests will continue to celebrate private Masses, churches will be open at times for individual prayer, confession is to remain available, and pastoral care of the sick will continue as much as possible. Parishes will also keep office hours in a manner consistent with the state’s stay-at-home order.

One important implication of the extension is its effect on first communions and confirmations. Parishes typically have those celebrations in the spring. Those that were scheduled for the affected time period will have to be postponed, the letter said.

Bissonette said the challenging days and the limitations they have imposed have given Catholics a deeper appreciation for the gifts of being able to gather with loved ones, to come together for worship, and to receive Holy Communion.

At the same time, he commended the response of Catholics in the diocese. “The spiritual communions, daily prayers, sacrifices, and works of charity offered up by you, the Catholic faithful, and the creativity and zeal with which our priests have brought us online Masses, podcasts, and the like, to keep us together in worship of the Lord and service of his people, is a graced moment and truly inspiring,” he said, in a news release.

He asked continued prayers for the victims of the pandemic, their loved ones, and their caregivers. The measures are temporary and could be lifted if the situation should improve more quickly.