Mass & Directions

Diocese of Tucson lifts the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation beginning July 1st

St. Francis Parish | June 11, 2021, 8:12 pm | Reflections

As of July 1, 2021, the general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation for the general public will cease.  However, the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation remains in place for those at serious medical risk. Serious medical risk refers primarily to those with a chronic health condition, those providing direct care for the vulnerably ill, or those with a compromised immune system or other health condition that leaves them unable to be vaccinated.  

In some respects, the language of “obligation” is unfortunate as it tends to speak of something unpleasant.  Nevertheless, the language of obligation is not entirely inappropriate.  Indeed, most cultures make obligatory those things that are deeply treasured, such as education for children. For faithful Catholics the primary motivation to participate in Sunday Mass should be a sincere desire to encounter Christ in the Eucharist and to gather in community.  Many have said to our clergy that they have greatly missed participating at Mass in person.  I pray that same holy longing is in each of our hearts.

Gathering in community to celebrate the Eucharist is a most serious matter, originating in the Commandments given by God to the Jewish people.  The first Christians quickly recognized that all things were made new by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It was within this spirit that the Commandment to keep holy the Sabbath was transferred from the last day of the week (Saturday) to the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the first day of the week (Sunday).  Nevertheless, the obligation has never been without exception. Canon Law for the Roman Catholic Church notes that while Sundays are holy days of obligation, there always have been exceptions for people in serious situations.  Not only the local bishop but also pastors can dispense members of their congregations from the Sunday Mass obligation for a proportionate reason.

As noted above, the current dispensation from Sunday Mass attendance remains in place for those at serious risk of the Covid-19 virus.  This will require a prudent evaluation on the part of responsible Catholics.  In traditional Catholic theology a prudent decision flows from a properly formed conscience.  Those at serious risk should have a clear conscience in refraining from in-person gatherings of any kind at our churches.  But those who are comfortable dining at restaurants, shopping for non-essentials, traveling, or engaging in other public activities would have no legitimate reason to claim the dispensation.
It also must be noted that the recent and creative uses of technology to serve the faithful have been a blessing. Many are truly unable to leave their homes or care facilities and they have found live-streamed, televised or internet Masses, holy hours, and other events to be a great spiritual comfort. While pastors are prudent to continue at least some of these services offered via technology in the future we must be careful not to allow this blessing to substitute for gathering around the altar of the Lord in person and receiving Christ sacramentally. The Judeo-Christian history is one of encountering God through actual lived community, and community is built and sustained through actual lived interaction with other believers. There is no tradition of privatized religion within Catholicism.  The ease or convenience of religious offerings via television or the internet can never legitimately replace a lived experience of community.  For this reason, the use of televised or internet liturgies can never replace in-person worship for those who are capable of participating in parish life.  Moreover, to choose not to participate personally in Mass when we are capable of doing so is to deprive ourselves of the immeasurable spiritual graces that can be received only by active participation with others in the Mass.

Most Reverend Edward J. Weisenburger
Bishop of Tucson 

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