The Roman Catholic bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has lifted a dispensation from Sunday Mass, telling his flock to return to weekly church attendance, the Washington Times reported Tuesday.
In normal times practicing Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and “holy days of obligation” throughout the year, but were granted a dispensation during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sioux Falls Bishop Donald DeGrood stated in an August 10 letter to the faithful that the severity of the virus has been much less than expected and therefore he has decided to lift the dispensation.
“I have come to realize it is now time to change the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass,” Bishop DeGrood said. “Making this change at this time will provide greater access to the sacraments and other spiritual, educational, pastoral and liturgical celebrations in our Catholic churches and schools which is essential for us to lead the happy, healthy and holy lives God desires for us.”
The bishop said that “the anticipated magnitude of the serious effects of COVID-19 have not been as extensive in South Dakota as was initially projected,” which led him to reconsider the suitability of the dispensation.
Updated data indicate that “infection rates have not been as widespread and the number experiencing severe illness has not been as significant in our diocese as it had been projected when the general dispensation was granted,” he said.
He noted that nearly half of the counties in the mostly rural diocese have fewer than 10 cases and seven counties have no confirmed cases at all.
In light of the new data, the bishop has officially reinstated the Sunday obligation for most Catholics, while retaining the dispensation for the elderly, those at increased risk, and their caregivers.
“After receiving clarity through prayer, consultation with clergy and others, and in light of this data, effective on August 17, 2020, I am changing the dispensation to apply only to those at increased risk for severe illness and those responsible for their care,” he said. “It is important for all in the diocese to know that this modification is made out of pastoral concern for the souls entrusted to my spiritual care.”
Bishop DeGrood defined “those at increased risk for severe illness” as those people aged 65 or older, or anyone with cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a weakened immune system from an organ transplant, obesity, serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease, or type two diabetes mellitus.
The bishop suggested the faithful ask themselves whether their fear of going to church because of the virus was “morally justifiable.”
Catholic News Agency reported that the Sioux Falls diocese is believed to be the first in the nation to reinstate the obligation to attend Sunday Mass.
In early August, Bishop Chad W. Zielinski of the diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, also wrote to the faithful alerting them to the imminent removal of a “general dispensation” from Mass attendance.