A year ago, we were afflicted with a great scourge, the COVID-19 virus. Our lives were upturned. This included our spiritual lives. So as to ease our consciences, I, as your bishop, dispensed all in the Diocese of Lansing from the obligation to participate in Sunday and Holy Day Mass. This kind of dispensation prevailed throughout our country and the world. The primary aim of all our safety precautions was to “flatten the curve.” It was never to get rid of the virus. That will remain with us for years. Rather, it was to make sure that our hospitals were not overwhelmed. In fact, hospitalizations are now down. And those most likely to be hospitalized, the 65 and older, are now vaccinated or able to be vaccinated. It is time for our believing community to gather again. Thus, as some of you will already know, as of Pentecost 2021, May 22-23, 2021, I am lifting the dispensation for the Diocese of Lansing. We are all now obliged to participate in Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Over these next few weeks, let me offer some reflections on this for our meditation.
The first precept of the Church is “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor” (Catechism #2042; see Canon 1247). This is a call for us to sanctify the Lord’s Day by worshiping God in the Christian assembly and by resting “from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days” (Catechism #2042). This is a serious responsibility on the part of all the Faithful People of God “unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor” (Catechism #2181; see Canon #1245). Obviously, if it is impossible to fulfill this obligation, then it is not binding. When in doubt, speak with your pastor.
Further, it is fascinating that the real obligation of Sunday Mass is that we worship God. To worship God is to “acknowledge [the Lord] as God, as the Creator and Savior, the Lord and Master of everything that exists,” and so “to praise and exalt [God] and to humble oneself” in his presence (Catechism #s 2096, 2097). Even as Jesus told the devil who was tempting him, “The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve” (Matthew 4:10). Our Sunday Mass is not primarily about receiving the Eucharist though that is obviously a very important reason for participating in that Mass.
Some may say that they can worship God on their own. Certainly, there is truth to this. However, hear these words of Pope St. John Paul II, “it is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Christ inwardly, in the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of Baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the Mystical Body, having become part of the People of God. It is important therefore that they come together to express fully the very identity of the Church” (Dies Domini #31). Furthermore, we assemble as one because the Lord calls us to gather together. It is in obedience to his summons that we join publicly in the celebration of his death and Resurrection.
Assuring you of my prayers, I am sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop of Lansing
P.S. To welcome you and your loved ones back to Holy Mass, I am sending each of you a blessed candle representing, as it does, the Light of the World, Jesus Christ.
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