Answers to your questions about Bishop Paprocki’s modified dispensation, effective April 11
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki announced that, effective April 11, Divine Mercy Sunday, the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days will be modified to be limited to the following groups:
- Those 65 years of age or older;
- Those at risk for severe illness due to underlying medical conditions as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
- Those who care for the sick, homebound, or infirmed;
- Those women who are pregnant;
- Those who cannot be accommodated at Mass because the church was at safe-distancing capacity.
Those who fall into one of these categories are dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass, but still must observe the Third Commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day,” by participating in a livestream broadcast of the Sunday Mass, spending time in prayer, reading the Bible, praying the rosary, and/or meditating on the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.
All other Catholics in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are once again obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, effective with the liturgies for Divine Mercy Sunday, April 11, beginning with the Saturday anticipated Masses the evening before.
But what if I am sick or may have come in contact with someone with a contagious illness like COVID-19?
Any person who is sick is automatically excused from Mass and does not require a dispensation. The following people are excused from the Mass obligation and are morally obliged not to attend Mass so as to avoid putting others at risk:
- Those who are currently ill;
- Those who have a fever or exhibit flu-like symptoms;
- Those who have good reason to think they might be asymptomatic of a contagious illness (e.g., those who were in recent contact with someone who tested positive for a contagious illness such as COVID or influenza).
I do not know if I fall into one of the categories, what should I do?
Please contact your pastor, as he can discuss your specific situation with you.
Why is there an obligation to go to Mass?
The Sunday Mass obligation is grounded in the First Commandment and Third Commandment, to love God and keep holy the Sabbath. The source of our obligation is God, himself, who declared that the Sabbath must be reserved as a day of rest after he completed his work of creation. Further, our love of God and recognition of him as our creator and provider demand worship as a proper response. Given this reality, the Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs the faithful to protect the Sabbath as a sacred day: “On Sunday and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body (CCC 2185).”
The Mass obligation is an integral part of the Sabbath, as giving right worship and gratitude to God and participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice which is the “source and summit” of our faith. The Catechism describes the Sunday Mass obligation as follows: “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 (CCC 2181).”
When we become distracted by other activities and things that seem more important than obeying God’s command to keep holy the Sabbath and fulfill our Sunday Mass obligation, we should be concerned that we have begun to lose sight of what is most important. We owe gratitude and worship to God, and we should embrace the opportunity to receive God in the Liturgy of the Word and, most importantly, in the Eucharist.
If I am not dispensed from the obligation, and I skip Mass anyway, is that a sin?
Yes. Participation at Sunday Mass is a precept of the church and to willfully miss Sunday Mass, without serious reason or without a dispensation, is a grave sin according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2181). This precept is based on the Third Commandment, handed down by God to Moses, that the Sabbath Day is to be kept holy. In our Christian tradition, the church understands this as participating at Mass on Sundays (or the Saturday vigil). Sunday is the Christian Sabbath (the original day being Saturday) because it was on Sunday that our Lord rose from the dead to new and everlasting life.
When an act is determined by the church to be gravely sinful and the act is done freely and knowingly as being gravely sinful, then it is mortally sinful. What does this mean? The church teaches that mortal sin that is not repented of excludes a soul from Heaven. Having said this, in the same section of the Catechism, the church teaches that final judgment ultimately belongs to the justice and mercy of God (CCC 1861). For those who willfully miss Sunday Mass or Mass on holy days of obligation, the Catholic Church offers the sacrament of reconciliation.
If we are contemplating missing Sunday Mass (not including being sick or caring for someone who is), we have to honestly ask ourselves if there is a duty or serious reason that necessitates our absence; put another way, is what I am doing instead of going to Mass going to deepen my relationship with the Lord or weaken it and possibly break it? Furthermore, if I am responsible for others getting to Mass, like children, how is this judgment going to help or hinder their relationship with God?
Isn’t the diocese putting people in danger by making people come to Mass?
No. First, we have celebrated Mass publicly throughout the diocese for many months, having implemented safety protocols, and there have been no outbreaks or spread of infection traced back to Mass attendance. The same track record of safety is also true around the country.
Further, the modified dispensation ensures that any person who is at risk is still dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. See the list above.
Those who are healthy, going out in the public by doing things like shopping at the grocery store, hardware store, or clothing store; eating at restaurants, visiting family and friends, and attending public events, should have no safety concerns about attending Mass, especially because our churches are practicing the same safety protocols that are in place in secular establishments.
Did the diocese look to the medical community in making this decision?
Yes. The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois is utilizing the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois Department of Public Health, local county health departments, and other experts that have indicated people can attend public gatherings if proper safety measures are in place.
What safety measures are churches taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois follows safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes parishioners wearing masks, some pews are roped off to allow for safe distancing, churches are capped at safe-distancing capacity, hand sanitizer is present in several locations of the church, the priest sanitizes his hands before distributing Communion, and churches are cleaned and sanitized, among other safety measures.
Are we the only diocese that is ending the general dispensation?
No. Other dioceses have ended their general dispensation around the country such as the Archdioceses of Milwaukee and Detroit.
How will churches handle an increase of Catholics?
Each pastor, in consultation with his councils and parish community, and in light of his county’s particular situation and health guidelines, should examine and tailor the parish’s capacity and safe distancing protocols for Easter and in preparation for the modified dispensation as appropriate for his community.
As noted above, anyone who cannot be accommodated at Mass due to the safe-distancing capacity limit being reached is dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass.
Shouldn’t watching Mass online be enough?
While online Mass has been a wonderful way for Catholics to stay engaged in our faith and receive grace during the pandemic, Mass online is missing three critical aspects of our faith: full, active, conscious participation of the congregation in the divine liturgy, reception of the holy Eucharist, and community. While streaming Mass is good, it is not a full sacramental experience.
As members of the church, we are the body of Christ. Worshipping together is a beautiful way we join ourselves as believers with Jesus.
The holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith – it is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Receiving him makes going to Mass worth not only an hour on Sunday, but worth everything.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Mt 26:26-28; cf. Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:17-20, 1 Cor 11:23-25)
To see more answers to frequently asked questions, go to dio.org/backtomass for more information.