Those who engage in ‘non-essential’ activities such as shopping, dining out or social events should return to Sunday Mass, archbishop says

DETROIT — Citing the recent dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in Michigan and across the nation, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron announced Nov. 13 that Catholics in the Archdiocese of Detroit will continue to be dispensed from their Sunday Mass obligation until at least Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021.

The dispensation — which has been in place since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in March — was set to expire Nov. 22, when Catholics would have been expected to return to the pews.

“Unfortunately, local and state health officials report that we not only continue to experience an increase in cases in our region and elsewhere, but that the rate of increase is rising dramatically and dangerously,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I have been in communication with leaders in our Catholic hospitals and they are very concerned about the immediate future and the challenges they face caring for all those in need, not just those experiencing serious complications from COVID-19.”

On Nov. 12, Michigan set a new record for daily coronavirus cases with 6,940 and is on pace to break weekly caseload records for the fifth consecutive week.

Normally, Catholics have a duty to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. However, diocesan bishops may lift such requirements if circumstances warrant. 

Archbishop Vigneron said the extension of the dispensation is designed “in part to help ease the conscience of those who are unable to be present for public worship due to risk of illness to themselves or their families.”

People wear masks as they attend Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Riverview. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass is meant to ease the burden of conscience on those who cannot, for grave reasons, attend Mass, but those without a “true need” should return if they are able, the archbishop said. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Masses will continue to be offered on Sundays and weekdays, and parishes will remain open. Regardless of whether families choose to attend Mass, the archbishop noted, “all baptized Catholics are reminded of the grave necessity they have to keep holy the Lord’s Day. This a divine law that neither I nor anyone else can ever dispense.”

“Sunday is the day of the Resurrection of our Lord, and as such Christians from the earliest days have set it apart as a day unlike others. When it is not possible to participate in person in the Sacrifice of the Mass, it is vitally important for every member of the Catholic Church to observe the Sabbath by prioritizing prayer, time for God and for family, and works of charity,” Archbishop Vigneron said.

“To that end, many of our parishes have been broadcasting their services over the internet during these last several months. While this virtual means of watching Mass can never replace the unmediated contact with the Real Presence of Our Lord we receive by being present and participating in Mass, these livestreamed Masses have been a way to help Catholics nourish their souls when they cannot be present for Mass,” he said.

While the dispensation is particularly important for those who are vulnerable — such as the elderly or immunocompromised — and their caregivers, Catholics “should not take advantage of the dispensation without a true need,” the archbishop said.

For instance, those who engage in risky non-essential activities such as shopping, dining out or social gatherings should return to Sunday Mass — which is “an essential activity,” the archbishop said.

“Our souls greatly need the grace that comes from the re-presentation of Christ’s saving death and resurrection and this is what Jesus has entrusted to us in the celebration of the Mass. Just as businesses, schools, and other locations have opened safely, so have our parishes,” he said.

“Our pastors, parishes, and the faithful have worked diligently and adapted well in order to ensure the health and well-being of everyone who has been able to come to church for Mass, confession, or to pray,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “I want to offer my sincere gratitude for the efforts that have been undertaken to implement and maintain the first-rate precautionary measures that have kept our parishes and schools safe.”

The archbishop urged prayers for first-responders, health care workers and clergy on the front lines as the nation enters the height of the pandemic. 

“Let us also continue to invoke Our Lady of Lourdes, patroness for those who suffer illness, asking her to pray with us for healing and protection for the people of southeast Michigan and beyond,” he said.