May 28, 2021

Editorial

Bishops restore Sunday obligation, encourage all who can to participate fully

“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” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2181).

After more than a year, the bishops of Indiana have announced they are lifting the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. This unprecedented general dispensation was granted in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic threatened the health and well-being of everyone in the Hoosier State, but especially the elderly and people who were vulnerable to this deadly disease.

As vaccinations have proven effective and cases of serious illness and death have declined significantly, the bishops believe that it is now time to return to full participation in the Sunday Eucharist for all who are able to attend Mass in person. Therefore, their announcement says, “effective June 11, the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass is hereby lifted throughout the state of Indiana.”

The Criterion joins with Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, and all the bishops of Indiana, in encouraging Catholics who are able to return to Sunday Mass to do so joyfully and without fear. Our parishes have been doing an outstanding job of maintaining our churches as safe environments for prayer and worship. And our parish communities will have the ability to make some decisions concerning appropriate safety protocols themselves.

This announcement should be greeted with great joy. The Sunday Eucharist is the heart of our Catholic life. It gathers us together around the table of the Lord and unites us with Christ, who is truly present in the holy Eucharist, and with one another, our sisters and brothers in the one family of God.

As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit” (#2182).

In addition to gathering us together, the Sunday Eucharist also serves to “send us forth” to fulfill our responsibilities as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ who proclaim his good news to everyone we meet.

One of the greatest spiritual deprivations of the COVID-19 pandemic was the way it isolated us from those we love, and from activities like Sunday Mass, that serve to connect us with God and each other. Many of us experienced for the first time what many are calling “The Great Eucharistic Fast” when physical reception of the body and blood of Christ was simply not possible.

Parishes throughout central and southern Indiana did an extraordinary job of making live-streamed Masses available, and the practice of spiritual Communion was widely encouraged to help us stay connected to our Lord in spite of the fact that we were not able to receive him in the Eucharist. But nothing can replace full participation in the Sunday Eucharist and the actual, physical reception of Christ’s body and blood—which is a gift from our Lord whose value is beyond our imagination.

We are a privileged people who have been given the sacraments and the sacred liturgy as precious gifts. The Sunday “obligation” of the Church is no more or less than our responsibility as grateful and accountable stewards of these precious gifts. As stewards, we are called to give back to God with increase. The Sunday obligation gives us the perfect opportunity to express our gratitude and to deepen our relationship with the One who has given us everything.

The Indiana bishops’ announcement makes it clear that the restored Sunday obligation does not apply to those who are ill; those who have reason to believe that they were recently exposed to the coronavirus or another serious or contagious illness; those who are confined to their home, a hospital, or nursing facility; or those with serious underlying health conditions. Parishioners are advised to consult their local pastor if questions arise about their obligation to attend Sunday Mass.

Long before the pandemic kept Catholics away from their parish churches on Sunday, Mass attendance was declining. Let’s pray that the old adage that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies in this situation.

After a horrible year of sickness and death, violence and social upheaval, and economic distress, we need the Sunday Eucharist more than ever.

—Daniel Conway

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