The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes has closed for the first time in over a century following new restrictions in France to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“For the first time in its history, the sanctuary will close its doors for a while. Pray with us the novena to the Immaculate,” Mgr. Olivier Ribadeau Dumas, rector of the Lourdes sanctuary announced March 17.

No public Masses will be offered in the sanctuary due to national measures announced by French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron on the evening of March 16.

France is the third European country to enact a mandatory national quarantine in response to the growing number of cases of COVID-19. Italy and Spain have both imposed nationwide lockdowns, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis have also announced bans on all religious services in their countries.

The French government restrictions include limiting citizens’ movement outside of their homes for the next 15 days to grocery shopping and essential movement, as well as the closure of all schools, restaurants, cafes, and most businesses.

Following the closure of Lourdes, French Auxiliary Bishop Antoine Hérouard of Lille called on Catholics to participate in a novena to Our Lady of Lourdes from March 17-25 to pray for the sick who have been infected with the coronavirus.

“The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a privileged place of prayer for and with the sick,” Bishop Hérouard said in his introduction to the novena published on March 17.

The French bishop is asking everyone to commit to praying the rosary for nine consecutive days, concluding on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.

March 25 is also the anniversary of the Virgin Mary’s 16th apparition at Lourdes in which Our Lady declared to St. Bernadette Soubirous “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in southern France is built upon the site where the young  Bernadette Soubirous witnessed Marian apparitions, beginning on Feb. 11, 1858. The shrine also holds a spring of water which is said to have miraculous healing properties.

While there have been more than 7,000 miraculous recoveries attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes at the French shrine, only 70 cases have been officially recognized by the Catholic Church. A miraculous recovery must generally be a complete, spontaneous, and immediate healing from a documented medical condition.

The last official miracle attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes was declared in 2018.

“In these troubled times, where many … because of the coronavirus, look to the future with concern, let us ask the Lord through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes, to renew us in confidence, hope and peace of heart,” states the opening prayer of the Lourdes coronavirus novena.

“Mary, because you are the smile of God, the reflection of the light of Christ, the abode of the Holy Spirit, because you chose Bernadette in her poverty, you are the morning star, the gate to heaven and the first resurrected creature, we pray to you and entrust our lives to you at a time when so many men and of women fear for their health. Assist the sick and caregivers, welcome those who are dead, and be comfort for families,” the prayer concludes.