Almost one year has elapsed since the COVID-19 virus began to attack our world. It has been a year of terrible sickness and death for many people. It has been a year of living in isolation and fear. Worst of all, it has been a year in which the celebration and reception of the Eucharist is but a memory for many Catholics.
Our churches have been open, and the sacraments have been available. Many of the faithful have continued to fill (COVID style) their parish churches —some announcing that their fear of being deprived of the sacraments was greater than their fear of sickness, or even death. Now, with vaccines available and virus numbers decreasing every day, it’s time for all those who are not likely victims of COVID to return to the full practice of the faith.
The general dispensation from the Sunday obligation remains in effect, but all those, except for the elderly, those with conditions that could make them more susceptible to COVID, and those who must care for the sick and elderly, should now come home to Mass. If you are unable to participate in Mass on Sunday, then come another day of the week. Watching Mass on television, or worse, taking advantage of the dispensation as an excuse for not attending Mass must not become the “new normal.”
St. John Paul II wrote in “Dies Domini” that “Sunday is a day which as at the very heart of the Christian life” (7). Far from merely a rule, participation in Mass — especially Sunday Mass — is at the heart of our Catholic identity. In the Sunday Eucharistic celebration, the word of God is proclaimed in the readings and is explained in the homily. This table of the word is followed by the table of the Body and Blood of Christ with which the Lord feeds his people.
This explains why participation at Sunday Mass is so important in the Christian life that, in time, it was recognized as a grave obligation, as witnessed by canon 1247 of the Code of Canon Law : “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that “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).
Before COVID caused the changes in our lives as Catholics, we discovered that only about 35% of those who identified as Catholics attended Mass every Sunday. Now the numbers are even lower. It was not always so. One of the most inspiring accounts of Catholics’ love for the Mass comes from the year 304 A.D. When the emperor Diocletian forbade the practice of the Christian religion — especially the Mass — a group of 49 Christians in Proconsular Africa defied the emperor and continued to attend Mass. When they were discovered and reported to the emperor and sentenced to death, they replied to their accusers: “Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law; we cannot live without the Eucharist.”
And neither can we live without the Eucharist. There is no longer any excuse (except servile fear) for those who are not included among the most vulnerable to stay away from Mass. Our parishes are providing the necessary number of Masses to accommodate all who will come. Consider again the magnificent gifts of baptism and faith that you have been given. There is no salvation apart from Christ and his Church, and the sacraments. Let’s not celebrate another Lent without the Mass.
May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Apostles, obtain for all of us the grace to grasp the message of the Lord’s Day and to live it with vigor.