Bishop Robert P. Deeley prays at the altar during a Nov. 24 Mass, as Parish of the Precious Blood parochial vicar Rev. Arockia Prabu looks on. Credit: Courtesy of the Diocese of Portl | Star-Herald

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Roman Catholics will stay in their vehicles when they start celebrating mass in church parking lots this week as part of new coronavirus guidelines announced Wednesday.

Bishop Robert P. Deeley, head of the Maine diocese, said he is allowing parking-lot public masses but that congregants who fear contracting the virus will continue to be excused from attending Sunday mass.

Deeley temporarily suspended all daily and Sunday masses and religious services in Maine on March 19, issuing a dispensation from the obligation to attend mass for the nearly 300,000 self-identifying Catholics and 141 churches in Maine.

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“This decision to expand the ways in which we gather for worship reflects that Catholics have a deep desire to gather as a faith community, which is essential to our identity as Christians,” Deeley said in a statement.

The bishop encouraged celebrants to continue participating in live-streamed masses, “especially those who are trying to remain safe by staying at home.”

As part of the parking lot services, parishioners will remain in their vehicles at all times and vehicles must have one empty parking space between them. Only people who live together should be in the same vehicle, and church facilities such as restrooms will remain closed, Deeley said.

Holy Communion will not be distributed. Parishioners are instead invited to participate in an act of spiritual communion during the masses. Social distancing must be maintained by those who minister the masses, Deeley said.

Offertory collections will not be held during mass. Parishioners can donate to their parish online through WeShare or by mail.

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