My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last year, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki issued a dispensation for all Catholics within the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass until further notice. I am writing to you today to inform you that Bishop Paprocki has announced that effective April 11, the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation will expire and a modified dispensation will go into effect.
April 11 is celebrated liturgically in the Church as Divine Mercy Sunday on the Second Sunday of Easter, beginning with the Saturday anticipated Masses the evening before. As Bishop Paprocki wrote beautifully in his Catholic Times column, “The Easter season is a very fitting time to renew our commitment to worship Our Lord every weekend in commemoration of His Resurrection and to pray for God’s Divine Mercy to heal the sick and bring an end to this pandemic.”
Under the modified dispensation, most Catholics will be obligated to attend Mass, but others will continue to be dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass and Holy Days, including:
- Those 65 years of age or older
- Those at risk for severe illness due to underlying medical conditions as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Those who care for the sick, homebound, or infirmed; Women who are pregnant
- Those who cannot be accommodated at Mass because the church was at safe-distancing capacity
- Those who are sick, have a fever, exhibit flu-like symptoms, or who have good reason to think they are asymptomatic of a contagious illness such as COVID-19, are excused from attending Mass and do not require a dispensation. In fact, they are morally obliged not to attend Mass to avoid putting others at risk.
You might be thinking, ‘why does the Church oblige us to go to Mass?’ The Mass “obligation” is an integral part of our participation in the sabbath rest that God created for us. It is there that we receive every grace imaginable, that we worship our God, thank Him for every gift that we receive, and receive from Him the graces that we need to encounter whatever comes our way each week. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the Sunday Mass obligation as follows: “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 (CCC 2181).”
When we prioritize other engagements (sports, sleep, grocery shopping—whatever it may be!) over Sunday Mass, we can be sure that we have mistakenly allowed other things to eclipse what is most fundamental in our lives: our relationship with the God who gives us life. As with most “obligations,” if we do not enter into them willingly, they become lifeless expressions. But when we bring our whole selves before the God who loves us where and how we are, then God gives order to our lives and helps us to see Him in every moment, whether joy or trial. When we “show up” for God, then we begin to see each Mass on Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation as an opportunity, not just an obligation.
As always, our parish and others across the diocese will continue to take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as safe distancing, hand sanitizer present at all points of entry, sanitation of the Church, and (per mandate by the Decatur City Council) the wearing of masks inside the Church, among other safety measures.
I encourage you to visit dio.org/backtomass, where you can read Bishop Paprocki’s letter and read answers to frequently asked questions about the modified dispensation.
I look forward with great joy to seeing you and worshiping together again as a parish family!
It’s time… welcome back to Mass!