by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I reiterate my gratitude to our priests, deacons and lay leaders who have worked diligently to make it possible to resume Masses in our parishes and, at the same time, to implement prudent protocols to protect the health of parishioners and the entire community.
I am not aware of a single case of Covid-19 transmission that has been traced to the celebration of Mass.
In recent weeks, I have received several requests for me to reinstate the obligation for Catholics in the archdiocese to participate in Sunday Mass. One of the reasons I have not done so is to avoid placing moral pressure on those at high risk to Covid-19.
Of course, serious health risks have always been understood to be valid reasons for individuals to be excused from the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass.
In addition, the impossibility of providing sufficient space for every parishioner to attend Mass and observe the social distancing requirements of many of our county health departments has deterred me from reinstating the Sunday obligation.
Unfortunately, we do not have enough priests to be able to increase sufficiently the number of Sunday Masses offered.
The obligation to attend Sunday Mass has its roots in the Third Commandment of the Decalogue found in both the Book of Exodus and the Book of Deuteronomy: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
“Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God” (Ex 20: 8-10a or Dt 5: 12-14). From the earliest days of Christianity, the Sabbath obligation has been transferred to Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection.
Pope St. John Paul II in his apostolic letter, “Dies Domini” (“The Day of the Lord – On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy”), stated: “The resurrection of Jesus is the fundamental event upon which Christian faith rests. It is an astonishing reality, fully grasped in the light of faith, yet historically attested to by those who were privileged to see the risen Lord” (2). St. Jerome asserted: “Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day.”
I am pleased that some of our parishes have been able to increase the number of vigil and/or Sunday Masses.
This is not possible in every parish. The circumstances in our parishes vary greatly. The health regulations are significantly different in the 21 counties that compose the archdiocese.
The size of the church building impacts the number of individuals and families that can be accommodated in accord with the required social distancing. The number of priests available to offer Mass, as well as the unique health conditions of our priests, also are factors that impact the number of Masses.
For the Christian, Sunday is the most important day of the week. For the Catholic, time devoted to participating in Sunday Mass is the most important appointment we have all week. Jesus gave his disciples the commandment: “Do this (the Eucharist) in remembrance of me.”
Participating in Sunday Mass is not just a good thing to do. It is essential to living our Catholic faith. We encounter in the Eucharist each week the very events that have given us life in Jesus — namely Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.
The very term “church” means the “assembly.” Gathering for communal prayer is essential to our identity as Christians. For the Catholic, there is nothing more important than to gather to celebrate the Lord’s victory over sin and death and to encounter the living Jesus who empowers us to live his Gospel.
God is the source and Lord of all life. In truth, we owe every day and every hour of every day and every minute of every hour to God. For the Lord to ask of us that one day of the week be devoted to rest, to family and to prayer is not a bad deal.
God asks this of us — not because he needs our praise, but because we need a day to rest and refocus on the purpose of our lives.
Moreover, for the Lord to ask us to devote one hour or so of his day to encounter his living presence in the Eucharist is not an imposition, but the greatest of gifts. The Lord of lords, King of kings and Creator of the cosmos wants us to spend time with him. How can we consider this a burden?
Receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist is not an obligation but an incredible privilege. Only the most distorted sort of thinking could consider a burden the opportunity to touch the incredible love revealed on Calvary and to encounter our risen Lord who vanquished sin and death. Sunday Mass is not an obligation, but rather the most incredible privilege.
I am not choosing at this time to renew the obligation to participate in Sunday Mass for reasons already stated. However, if you are not a Covid-19 high risk and you are not caring for someone who is a high risk, then why would you deny yourself the opportunity to receive Jesus, the Second Person of the Triune God in holy Communion?
What could possibly be a higher priority than receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist? If we are going to social gatherings, the grocery store, the hair salon, the pet store, why deprive ourselves of the Eucharist?
It is time for most of us to be returning to Mass. The number of Catholics showing up for Mass should be placing pressure upon pastors to increase the number of Masses or figure out how to accommodate safely with the usual number of Masses more people on the parish campus.
Encountering the risen Lord in the Eucharist is a privilege, not a burden. What could be more important?
Jesus does not promise us a cure for Covid-19 if we attend Mass. Our Lord promises us something much more beautiful.
In the words of the saints, the Lord offers us an antidote to death and a medicine for immortality.