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US bishops end 'dispensation’ excusing Catholics from attending mass

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Saints Peter and Paul Church is a Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, directly across from Washington Square. |

Catholic bishops across the United States have announced that the special dispensations that excused the faithful from attending mass due to the COVID-19 pandemic are being lifted.

Many regional bodies of the Roman Catholic Church recently declared that the official obligation of Catholics to attend mass, suspended last year because of the virus, was being reinstated.

Last week, the Catholic Conference of Ohio released an announcement that the obligation for Catholics to regularly attend mass would be reinstated, effective June 5-6.

The bishops noted in the statement that there would still be exemptions for those who have a “serious reason” to be absent, such as illness or caregivers of immuno-compromised people.

Additionally, the conference did not consider watching a mass online or on television as “a substitute” for gathering in-person, clarifying that such programs were for “the sick, home-bound, the imprisoned, etc., who are unable to attend Mass in person.”

“The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days is not something God asks of us out of his own necessity to be worshipped, but rather a gift to the faithful for their spiritual well-being, eternal salvation and formation in our relationship with God and one another,” explained the conference.

“As we prepare for the reinstatement of the obligation to attend Mass, we are excited once again to gather together in person without restrictions in our parish churches, most fittingly on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”

In late April, the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia, announced that they were ending their dispensation from mass on May 22, the day before Pentecost Sunday.

Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer stated in a pastoral letter that Pentecost was “an appropriate time to take our next step forward to full reopening of our churches.”

“We will still require masks and social distancing in our parishes, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control,” clarified Hartmayer in April.

“This means that people should maintain a reasonable healthy space between themselves and others who are outside of their families, to be determined at the level of each parish. Parishes can still have outdoor Masses to accommodate more people.”

On April 30, the Archdiocese of Dubuque issued a statement explaining that their dispensation would end on June 5-6, citing the “ever-increasing number of parishioners who are vaccinated, and who have a holy desire to worship at Sunday Mass with others in church.”

“As the pandemic isn’t over, even without a dispensation, Catholics can still legitimately excuse themselves from Sunday Mass,” explained the Iowa-based Archdiocese, citing examples such as illness, fear of COVID-19 infection, and age frailty.

“In short, there is no sin in missing the Sunday obligation if you would go if you could go, but you can’t for reasons outside your control.”

Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, New York, sent out a letter on Monday announcing the lifting of the dispensation by June 5.

“In charity and concern for others, at the Mass and other liturgies, we should continue to follow the various directives regarding health protocols such as social distancing, face masks and sanitizing,” wrote Scharfenberger.

“As the next few months unfold, the various liturgical guidelines will continue to be examined and more of the special arrangements put in place will be lifted, as and when it is safe and possible to do so.”

Not all Catholic dioceses or conferences are following suit just yet, as the Maryland Catholic Conference still states on its website as of Wednesday morning that their dispensation remains in place.

“The dispensation from attending Sunday Mass in person remains in place throughout Maryland (please participate by watching Mass on TV or online) during this time of transition,” noted the conference.  

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