Citing significantly lower infection rates, increased access to government-approved vaccines and the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic life, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight is summoning the faithful back to Mass in-person.
He announced May 7 that the general dispensation from in-person Mass attendance on Sundays and holydays of obligation in this diocese will be lifted, effective June 1.
The decree can be found online at diojeffcity.org/public-health.
People who have symptoms of COVID-19 or other communicable infections, who have been advised by their medical doctor to avoid public gatherings, or who are otherwise ill or homebound remain dispensed, as do their caregivers.
All others are obliged to return to regular participation in the Sacraments, including Sunday Mass.
“So many people have sacrificed so much since the pandemic began,” Bishop McKnight said. “As we return to celebrating the Sacred Liturgy together in person, we honor their sacrificial love and we thank God for bringing us through this terrible situation.
“The Body of Christ nourishes our souls and heals us of our sins; we are blessed that we can come together again to receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion and build up the Church,” he said.”
All current, government-mandated health directives will remain in effect. People with symptoms of COVID-19 will not be permitted on church properties.
Other health and safety protocols will be followed at the discretion of each pastor, such as frequent cleaning of high-contact surfaces, the availability of hand sanitizers and the practice of proper social distancing.
The wearing of facemasks is still encouraged, especially for those who have not been fully vaccinated.
Parishes are encouraged to continue livestreaming their Masses for the benefit of homebound parishioners and those who are traveling.
Bishop McKnight temporarily lifted the obligation to attend Mass at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to help slow the spread of the virus and help keep people safe.
Those who did not attend Mass in-person were obliged to actively participate in a televised or livestreamed Mass, or to meditate on the Sunday readings and pray a Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet.
While those activities are good and certainly helpful to people who cannot be at Mass in person, they are not a substitute for worshipping together and receiving the Body of Christ in Holy Communion.
“Gathering in the sacred assembly, worshipping with one voice, hearing and praying over the Word of God together, receiving Holy Communion together — this is the apex and wellspring of everything we do,” said Bishop McKnight. “We are blessed to be able to return to it in full measure.”
Father Daniel Merz, chairman of the diocesan Liturgical Commission, noted that under Church law, anyone who is sick or otherwise unable attend Mass in person is automatically dispensed from the obligation to do so.
“That would include caregivers,” he noted. “If someone has to be there to take care of you if you’re sick, then that person is also dispensed.”
All Christians are expected to observe God’s commandment to honor and keep holy the Sabbath.
For Catholics, that ordinarily includes attending Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday.
The Church gives bishops the authority to lift that obligation in times of pandemic or for other serious reasons, mindful always that the Eucharist remains the source and summit of Catholic Christian life and that the Lord’s Day must still be honored and kept holy.
Catholics in this diocese who were not symptomatic or recently exposed to COVID-19 have been permitted to attend Mass in person since last May but have not been required to do so.
Things are very different now.
“At this point, Bishop McKnight sees that the pandemic has lessened sufficiently and our medical system is no longer overwhelmed,” said Fr. Merz. “The CDC and the state have relaxed some of their pandemic protocols, so the Church can, as well.”
Pastors have shown proper discretion throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so.
“Over this whole stretch of time, I’m not aware of any outbreak occurring in our parishes due to people attending Sunday Eucharist,” said Fr. Merz.
He noted that returning to Mass is much more than just another sign that things are getting back to normal.
“With this decree, the bishop is responding to the fact that people have a deep need to receive the Eucharist,” said Fr. Merz. “It’s an essential part of our spiritual lives.
“So we’re going to continue to be very careful but we’re also going to begin drawing people back into community and receiving the Eucharist,” he said.
Fr. Merz encouraged anyone who has serious health concerns or family obligations that keep them away from Mass to contact their pastor.
A priest, deacon or extraordinary minister could arrange to pray with them and bring them Holy Communion.
“We do that all the time — taking Communion to the homebound, to the sick,” he said. “That’s part of our pastoral ministry.”
Many public health experts state that the fastest way to end this pandemic is to get as many people as possible vaccinated against the virus.
“It is without a doubt our surest path back to normal,” said JoAnn Martin, a certified nurse practitioner who is administrator of the Pettis County Health Center in Sedalia.
She is convinced that ready access to the vaccine is a gift from God and an answer to prayer.
“We’ve been praying for a year now for this pandemic to end, and this is how it’s going to happen,” said Mrs. Martin, a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Sedalia. “We follow the guidelines, we get vaccinated and we take care with our brothers and sisters.”
She called to mind the prayer to the Immaculate Heart of Mary that Bishop McKnight introduced last year on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“From the very beginning, we have been asking Mary to intercede with God to help us through this pandemic,” said Mrs. Martin. “Through her intercession, we have been able to have fewer cases of coronavirus, and we’ve been blessed with a vaccine to help us control it.”
She said the available vaccines are safe and that the technology that made their rapid development possible has been available for over 10 years.
“There have been no shortcuts taken through the science,” she stated, “only through paperwork bureaucracy.
“As a public health official, I see vaccines as a blessing from God,” she said. “He has blessed us with some very intelligent people who have used the talents He gave them to figure these things out.
“We should accept this gift and give God our deepest thanks as we return to Mass together,” she said.