Mass obligation reinstated;
doesn’t apply to the sick or vulnerable

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz presided over the Liturgy of the Eucharist at the presbyteral ordination this spring. In a letter to the faithful this week, he announced plans to reinstate the obligation to attend Mass beginning the weekend of Sept. 4 and 5. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

The obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation will be reinstated in the Archdiocese of Louisville the weekend of Sept. 4 and 5, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz announced in a letter to the faithful in The Record this week.

In communications with pastors, he noted this reinstatement would move forward “unless serious reasons intervene.”

The obligation was suspended 18 months ago in March of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began its surge in the United States.

Dr. Karen Shadle, director of the Office of Worship said the reinstatement — which comes amid a surge of the Delta variant of the virus — doesn’t mean anyone should change their habits.

“This announcement is not meant to pull people who are still homebound and tell them to start coming to church. This is for people who are attending sporting events, concerts, family gatherings but haven’t returned to church.

“It is not intended to scare people who are still taking precautions. They should continue to avoid crowds if that is what their medical situation warrants.”

Shadle noted that the obligation, as described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, has always included an exemption for those who are sick or vulnerable. And the church’s teaching is interpreted for the times, such as the current pandemic.

The archbishop explains in his letter that the obligation currently doesn’t apply to those who:

  • Are sick.
  • Have a serious health risk or live in a household with those at risk.
  • Serve as primary caregivers to those at risk.
  • Have serious anxiety or concerns about being in a large-group setting due to COVID-19.
  • Are unable to attend Mass in person.

In addition, prudent caution may be exercised about Mass attendance for those who are unable to be vaccinated, such as children under the age of 12.

Archbishop Kurtz is encouraging the faithful to return to Mass to receive the Eucharist. He notes in his letter that the word obligation tends to have a negative connotation in common usage.

“I invite you instead to reflect on the obligations you have in your lives … to your children, spouses, parents, colleagues, neighbors. Why do you fulfill these obligations?” he asks. “I would guess that most of these stem from a sense of responsibility, commitment, gratitude and love.

“Our obligation to attend Mass is a requirement of the Church … a requirement that calls us into a deeper relationship with God and others. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, and our faithful participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass builds our capacity for faith, hope and love.”

A series of videos on the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholic life and on the themes of invitation and obligation will be forthcoming from the archdiocese.

Along with the reinstatement of the obligation, the Archdiocese of Louisville has issued revised “Healthy at Worship” guidelines for safe liturgical practices during the pandemic. Among the guidelines are:

  • Holy Communion will continue to be offered to the congregation under the species of bread only.
  • Archbishop Kurtz requires masks for Masses and other indoor parish activities for those who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19. Masks also are required by all students, faculty, staff and visitors in all school settings.
  • Pastors and their staff are asked to communicate with parishioners who are unable to attend Mass, to visit them and make sacraments available, if possible.
  • Archbishop Kurtz “strongly encourages” those who are eligible to be vaccinated.

In his letter to the faithful, Archbishop Kurtz encourages his readers to be vaccinated:

“I also want to encourage all Catholics who are eligible to obtain a vaccine. Our Holy Father said that taking a vaccine ‘is about a moral choice because it is about your life but also the lives of others.’ This action is an act of love and a contribution to the common good.”

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