by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Canon 1247 of the Code of Canon Law states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day or the proper relaxation of mind and body.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (2181).
In March 2020, I dispensed the faithful of the archdiocese from the Sunday obligation in light of the serious public health concerns regarding the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In light of the availability of effective Covid vaccines, the rising rate of immunity, and the dramatic reduction of hospitalizations and deaths related to the virus, I am ending the dispensation from the Sunday obligation, effective the weekend of June 5-6, 2021, the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).
Many of the government health requirements for public gatherings, and especially for churches and houses of worship, have been relaxed in all the counties within the archdiocese. By the beginning of June, parishes should be able to accommodate our pre-Covid levels of Mass attendance.
In recent weeks, I have been encouraged by the growing numbers of parishioners participating in Mass throughout the archdiocese. I am announcing this now to allow parishes sufficient time to be well-prepared to accommodate all parishioners.
I continue to urge pastors to remain aware of public health recommendations for the counties served by their parish or parishes and to continue to partner in the ongoing efforts to protect the health of our parishioners as well as the health of the entire community.
Even before the pandemic, infirmities resulting from age or serious health concerns were considered a “grave cause” that dispensed an individual from fulfilling the Sunday obligation.
Why does canon law explicitly state that Catholics are bound to participate in the Eucharist on Sunday or its vigil? In the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer, the celebrant proclaims: “It is right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.”
Among the Ten Commandments, the core of the Mosaic covenant that God entered into with Israel, we find: “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord God commanded you” (Dt 5:12; Ex 20:8).
The day of the resurrection of Jesus, Sunday, is the Sabbath for the Christian. When Jesus gave the Eucharist to his disciples, Our Lord instructed them: “Do this in remembrance of me.” For the Catholic, Sunday should be the center of our week, and the Eucharist the center of our Sunday.
God, who has given us our life, our health, our family, our friends, our educational and employment opportunities, our material blessings and a share in his own eternal life, asks us to worship him for one hour a week — not for his sake, but for ours.
We need to separate ourselves from our usual work activities to remind ourselves of the purpose of our lives. God does not need our worship and praise, but we need to reorient ourselves to what is truly important and necessary in our lives: to know, honor, serve and love God.
The church is right in calling us to give God time in our weekly lives. It is unjust for us to ignore our debt to a loving God. At the same time, participating in the Eucharist is a privilege, not a burden.
What could possibly be more important and cherished than the opportunity to be nourished by the Creator of the cosmos, the Second Person of the Triune God, the Lord of lords and King of kings?
Every year, I go to each of our high schools to lead the entire school in a eucharistic Holy Hour. This year, I have been sharing with them the testimony of Blessed Carlo Acutis, who was beatified by Pope Francis in October 2020.
Carlo was born in 1991 and died in 2006 at the tender age of 15, only a few months after he had been diagnosed with an acute and an aggressive form of leukemia. Carlo, as a young child, had an instinctive love for the Eucharist. After receiving his first holy Communion, he desired to go to daily Mass and to pray daily in the presence of the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle.
Carlo’s parents had not been very devout Catholics. At best, they might go to Mass a couple of times a year. Carlo’s profound love for the Eucharist inspired a conversion in the hearts of his parents and many others.
Carlo was fascinated by Eucharistic miracles. He developed both a website and a traveling exhibit about some of the more recent eucharistic miracles. The following are a few of the insights this modern saint articulated about his experience of eucharistic adoration:
“If we go out in the sun, we get a suntan . . . but when we get in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, we become saints.”
“We can find God, with his body, his soul and his divinity, present in all the tabernacles of the world! If we think about it, we are more fortunate than those who lived 2,000 years ago in contact with Jesus, because we have God really and substantially present with us always. It’s enough to visit the closest church! We have Jerusalem on our doorsteps.”
“I like to speak with Jesus about all that I am living and feeling.”
“To him (Jesus), I can always confide something, I can also complain, question him about his silence and tell him what I do not understand. And then, within me, I find a word that he sends me: a moment of the Gospel that fills me with conviction and certainty.”
May this past year, when many were deprived for a time from receiving holy Communion, serve to deepen our awe for the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament!
May this year’s celebration of Corpus Christi be a moment when our amazement at the miracle of the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is deepened and renewed.
Blessed Carlo Acutis, pray for us!