The archbishop of Milwaukee has renewed Catholics’ obligation to attend Sunday Mass, ending a six-month dispensation from Sunday worship given during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“On September 14, 2020, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation will expire, and it will be the responsibility of those who are capable and not prohibited by other circumstances to attend Sunday Mass,” states Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki in a blog post. “Those who deliberately fail to attend Sunday Mass commit a grave sin.”
“The dispensation was made for the safety of all and to alleviate the burden of those conflicted by the obligation to attend Mass due to the coronavirus threat,” the archbishop writes, but the measure was always intended to be temporary.
The archbishop hastens to add that for certain ill or at-risk individuals, the dispensation still stands.
“If a person is ill, especially during this pandemic, they should remain at home,” he writes. “Likewise, if a person is at risk because of age, underlying medical conditions or a compromised immune system, one would be excused from the obligation.”
Moreover, a person caring for a sick person, even if they are not sick, “would be excused from the obligation out of charity,” he adds.
On the other hand, fear of getting sick, “in and of itself, does not excuse someone from the obligation,” he clarifies.
Live-streaming the Mass has been useful during the pandemic as a temporary stopgap, he notes, allowing people to feel connected when it was impossible to attend Mass in person.
“But televised or computer viewing does not fulfill the Sunday obligation,” the archbishop writes. “Instead, it is there to help those prohibited from attending public celebrations to have a sense of connectedness and it wonderfully fulfilled that task.”
“Our obligation to attend Sunday worship reflects the very character of who we are as Catholics,” he insists. “The importance of celebrating this day was something even the earliest of Christians could not live without.”
“Our Sunday worship is a joyful obligation,” he concludes. “It is a witness to God as the priority in our lives.”
The archbishop’s position echoes a recent Vatican letter urging all Catholics to return to Sunday worship.
The letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences, titled “Let us return to the Eucharist with joy!”, was released on Saturday morning and published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
The letter, signed by Vatican Cardinal Robert Sarah after being approved by Pope Francis, called for the resumption of public Sunday Masses, stressing that “it is necessary and urgent to return to the normality of Christian life.”
“The Christian community has never pursued isolation and has never made the church a city with closed doors,” writes Cardinal Sarah. The “community dimension” of Christian worship is essential and constitutes “a fundamental trait of Christian life,” according to Jesus’s teaching that “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
During coronavirus lockdowns, many countries made a distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” activities, often mistakenly judging public worship as belonging to the latter category, the cardinal suggested.
The Bishops should act firmly to ensure “that the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist is not downgraded by the public authorities to a ‘gathering,’ and is not considered as comparable or even subordinate to forms of recreational assemblies,” he wrote.