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Archdiocese of Baltimore exempts faithful from Mass this weekend because of expected heat

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori is advising area Catholics that they are excused from their obligation to attend Mass this weekend because of predicted high temperatures that could pose health risks to parishioners, particularly the elderly.

Lori said in a statement that with temperatures expected to top 100 degrees, the archdiocese has decided the conditions qualify as the sort of “grave cause” that relieves Catholics from their “Sunday obligation,” according to church law.

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Archdiocese spokesman Sean Caine said that while it’s not particularly unusual for the organization to make a similar call during winters — blizzards or ice storms qualify as “grave causes” every few years, he said — it’s a rarity for the decision to be made for summer conditions.

“No one can really recall when we’ve done it for the heat, but we looked at the same principles we use for the winter, and looked at the health concerns and risks posed, and we came to the conclusion it’s really no different,” he said.

Caine said many vulnerable Catholics, including the elderly, would likely observe the obligation even in the sweltering conditions if they didn’t know they had been formally excused.

“We want to tell anyone concerned about the weather that their health comes first, and not to worry about the obligation,” Caine said. “This is to say to them, ‘You’re free to make the call.’ ”

Concerns about air conditioning were not a factor in the decision, Caine added, as most churches in the diocese are air-conditioned.

Lori said in his statement that there will be several alternatives for participating in Mass.

Many parishes in the Baltimore Archdiocese stream their services live on the web, for example (the archdiocese lists them at www.archbalt.org/online-mass/), and Radio Mass of Baltimore will carry its usual live broadcast of services from St. Ignatius Catholic Church on WCBM (680 AM) at 9 a.m. Sunday and rebroadcast them at 6 p.m.

The Eternal Word Television Network also will broadcast the Mass at various times each day.

“Those who cannot safely attend Mass are encouraged to participate in one of these options,” Lori said.

Caine said Catholic relief agencies in Baltimore also will be pitching in to provide respite from the heat.

Our Daily Bread, My Sister’s Place, My Brother’s Keeper and the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center will serve as cooling centers, he said.

Each of the facilities has dormitories for overnight guests, and, Caine said, Catholic Charities, which normally asks residents to leave the buildings during the day, will keep the dormitories open around the clock to help residents escape the heat.

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