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US bishops encourage Catholics to return to in-person Mass

Parishes across the country are easing restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic

Sean Gallagher, Catholic News Service

Sean Gallagher, Catholic News Service

Published: June 06, 2021 12:55 AM GMT

Updated: June 06, 2021 12:59 AM GMT

US bishops encourage Catholics to return to in-person Mass

As Catholic parishes across the United States are loosening pandemic Mass restrictions and several bishops are lifting the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Masses, Catholic leaders are looking at ways to encourage the faithful to come back.

To this end, the Indianapolis Archdiocese is planning to offer a series of six videos where Catholics from the archdiocese share why the Eucharist is at the center of their lives.

Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis, is overseeing the production of the videos, which will begin to be posted on the archdiocese's website www.archindy.org in early June.

"When a person really understands what's going on at Mass and who it is they have an opportunity to encounter and receive, then they literally build their weekend around Mass," Ogorek said.

"One of the first decisions a person makes is how they're going to capitalize on the gift and the opportunity that the Mass and the Eucharist are. Everything else kind of fits around it," he added.

Ogorek also noted that the videos, which "can be used as a stand-alone resource for inviting folks back to Mass, or as a springboard for prayerful reflection and discussion by individuals and small groups," will also include a prayer, reflection questions and links to informative online resources.

We have good reason to believe that it is safe for practically everyone to return to Mass and other usual gatherings for prayer, worship, service and other activities

The bishops of the five dioceses in Indiana announced that effective June 11, they were lifting the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation that has been in effect since the start of the coronavirus pandemic last March.

"With the decrease of cases in our state," the Indiana bishops wrote, "the widespread availability of vaccines and following the guidance of public health officials, we are now able to safely accommodate more parishioners for Masses."

The bishops explained how some people are still dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass particularly those who are seriously ill or homebound and those who have compromised health conditions or care for the sick.

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson said, "Participation in the celebration of Mass is a privilege unlike any other. There is no greater form of prayer for Catholics, given our eucharistic-centered identity and mission, than gathering for the celebration of the Mass."

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In an interview with The Criterion, archdiocesan newspaper of Indianapolis, the archbishop commended the efforts of pastors and parish and school staff members  during the past year to ensure the safety of all worshippers, students, teachers administrators and those who have participated in various parish ministries.

"Given the availability of the vaccine, (the) sharp decrease in COVID cases and the subsequent lessening of restrictions by health officials, we have good reason to believe that it is safe for practically everyone to return to Mass and other usual gatherings for prayer, worship, service and other activities in their parishes," he said.

Archbishop Thompson said parishes will "continue to take all necessary precautions to provide the care of all those participating in liturgical gatherings throughout the archdiocese."

"I believe that this is a time where more people can gather safely based on the guidance that we have received," said Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Worship and Evangelization.

"It is important for us to gather for and to receive the most holy Eucharist, and the good work that communities have been doing has strengthened our ability to do so," he said.

Across the country in Philadelphia, Catholics learned that pandemic restrictions regarding social distancing and capacity limits on churches were lifted as of June 2 following local health guidelines.

Protocols such as frequent building sanitation, social distancing and capacity limits in churches were put in place in March 2020.

Now all churches in the Philadelphia Archdiocese may remove the ropes between pews -- allowing for full capacity and close proximity -- and no longer need teams of volunteers to clean high-touch surfaces as soon as weekend Masses June 5-6, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).

The wearing of masks, however, will remain a consideration for Catholics coming to Mass.

The Centers for Disease Control recommended May 13 that people who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus no longer need to wear masks or follow social distancing restrictions in most indoor and outdoor settings, except where prohibited by state and local regulations.

At this time, the requirement for face masks indoors remains in force in the City of Philadelphia, while in the suburbs the practice remains optional and is up to an individual's preference.

Within the liturgy, the sign of peace will still be suspended and Communion will only be offered in the form of bread

According to revised archdiocesan guidelines issued June 2, people should be "respectful of a person's choice" whether or not to wear a face mask in church.

Congregational singing led by cantors, choirs and musicians also is once again encouraged and people may again use hymnals and missalettes to participate actively at Mass and devotions.

Within the liturgy, the sign of peace will still be suspended and Communion will only be offered in the form of bread.

Catholics in the Philadelphia Archdiocese still have a dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation.

While livestream celebrations of the Mass and devotions may continue for parishioners at home, these real-time events are "always preferred over recordings," according to the guidelines.

The celebration of other sacraments, including baptism, confirmation, penance and reconciliation, matrimony and anointing of the sick, may be carried out without exceptions or restrictions. Priests may also hear confessions in the confessional, anonymously or face to face, also without any restrictions.

Looking ahead, pastors "should plan on the gradual reduction of livestream services in favor of encouraging the irreplaceable need for the faithful to participate in the sacred liturgy in person," the guidelines said.

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