Local Catholics out for Mass on Sunday sounded happy that Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez has reinstated the religious obligation to attend Mass in person starting next month, ending a 16-month dispensation during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think he should have done it a long time ago,” said Nathan Hook, just before he and his fiancée, Jessica Rosario, walked into St. Agatha-St. James Church in West Philadelphia. “The dispensation makes people think church isn’t that important. But you need to be in person to receive the sacraments.”
People who had already returned to in-person services voiced agreement with Pérez and his statement last Thursday.
“This is a moment to thank God for the great gift of the Mass ... as well as the joy of gathering together as people of faith,” Pérez said.
That joy seemed to eclipse the reality that for Catholics, skipping Sunday Mass for no good reason isn’t a choice, but rather a sin.
“I’m a practicing Catholic. We believe the Eucharist is the body of Christ,” Tuan Dinh, a Social Security Administration manager, said before entering St. Agatha-St. James.
“And if you believe that, being there in person is important,” said Dinh, 39. “I’m not a theologian. But when you look at your fellow parishioners, you realize we’re all human. We need that human contact.”
About a mile away at St. Francis de Sales Church, Sister Peggy O’Donnell, a retired medical technician, sounded a similar sentiment.
“I don’t feel it’s an obligation,” she said. “I feel it’s my connection to people here and to God.”
The in-person attendance directive, effective Aug. 15, has exceptions. Just as before the pandemic, the church recognizes that people may not be able to gather in person because of illness, caregiving responsibilities, or health risks. Pérez’s statement said lingering pandemic anxiety about crowds is also a valid reason to stay home and, if possible, join online.
Sunday’s small survey of the faithful suggests they won’t miss worshiping by going on their computer.
“I don’t like the online Mass,” said Chris, a young St. Agatha-St. James parishioner who didn’t want to be identified by his full name. “I get distracted by things around me at home.”
More than a few church-goers opted to wear masks Sunday for extra caution. O’Donnell said she’s fully vaccinated, but sported a mask with cats and musical notes.
Another masked de Sales parishioner, a health-care worker who declined to give her name, said she has been “doing Mass mostly on TV,” but wanted to attend in person because her daughter was doing a scripture reading.
“The only thing I care about is: Is it safe?” she said. “I’m fully vaccinated, but I’m glad most people still wear masks.”
Prudence Ouedraogo, at de Sales with her 6-year-old and 9-month-old daughters, said simply: “I’m happy to be back.”