The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., announced March 17 that it has closed its doors to the public in what it called a “response to recent CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and District of Columbia guidelines and to support the efforts of authorities to minimize the spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus.”

“This was a difficult decision because we know that the faithful rely on Mary’s Shrine for the peace and solace that is found in this sacred place. Still, we also recognize that we must listen to scientific and medical experts and do our part to help prevent the spread of this virus,” Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, rector of the National Shrine, said in a statement announcing the closure.

The statement from the National Shrine – the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, and one of the largest churches in the world – noted that the closure is believed to be the first time in the nearly 100 years since its founding that it has closed for a non-weather-related event. 

“The decision to close the doors to Mary’s Shrine was made not out of fear, but out of concern, trusting that Our Lord and His Blessed Mother will use this action to protect shrine staff and visitors,” Msgr. Rossi said in his statement. “We encourage everyone to heed the advice of Church and government authorities while placing our trust and hope in God.”

The National Shrine will continue to celebrate its Sunday noon Mass, and livestream it at www.nationalshrine.org/mass.

“We are committed to continuing the livestream for as long as possible while ensuring that the dedicated staff and volunteers here at Mary’s Shrine are kept safe,” Msgr. Rossi said. He did not indicate when the National Shrine would reopen to the public, but said,  “We look forward to the day when we can reopen our doors and resume our ministry, most especially the celebration of Mass and Reconciliation.”

In a March 18 statement, the National Shrine announced, “In an effort to provide for the faithful who rely on Mary’s Shrine as a place of prayer, peace and solace, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will add the livestream of several beloved Catholic devotions following the 12 noon ET livestream of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday.

 “Immediately following the 12 noon Mass beginning this Sunday, March 22, through the remaining Sundays of Lent, the Basilica will livestream Exposition and Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, with recitation of the rosary at 2:30 p.m. ET and the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. ET, followed by Benediction with the Most Blessed Sacrament.”

 Like the livestream of the Sunday Noon Mass, people can view the devotions online at  www.nationalshrine.org/mass.

 The March 18 statement also noted, “Mary’s Shrine is committed to continuing the livestream of the Sunday Mass and the aforementioned devotions for as long as possible in the wake of the Basilica’s public closure in response to CDC and District of Columbia guidelines in support of efforts to minimize the spread of COVID-19, otherwise known as the novel coronavirus.”

 Often referred to as America’s Catholic Church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is a national symbol of the Roman Catholic faith and provides a place of prayer and pilgrimage to nearly one million visitors from around the world every year.