Churches empty on Holy Thursday as worshipers stay home due to COVID-19

It was an unusual Holy Thursday.

Churches were not filled with worshipers, and instead many livestreamed services inside empty churches for people to watch at home.

Holy Name Cathedral would have normally been packed for its Holy Thursday Mass, but only the cardinal and a handful of clergy members were inside, broadcasting Mass over the internet. There is some concern, however, that not all Illinois churches are going to follow social distancing mandates.

Some church leaders are considering ignoring Governor Pritzker's executive order, which is why a group of pastors joined state police Thursday with a clear message.

“Should they have service or not? We are saying from brother to brother, brother to sister, please refrain from any public worship gathering at this time,” said Bishop Henry Phillips.

He and others say it does not go against doctrine to celebrate Holy Week outside the walls of the physical church.

“We do believe that if we are celebrating Christ at our respective homes, that the God we serve is still being glorified,” said Pastor Ryan Young.

Regarding concerns that the stay-at-home order constitutes the government infringing upon religious freedom, Bishop Phillips had this response: “This is not an issue of separation of church and state, it's a separation of life and death.”

“What I want to happen is when this is over, for you to still be here! And if we do not refrain, many of us will succumb to this disease,” said Pastor Kendall Granger.

State police were asked if law enforcement would be deployed in the event of a large gathering over the next few days and the ISP director said it would if necessary, but look at that as an absolute last resort, and encouraged all religious leaders to use common sense and encourage their parishioners to stay home.