Following a 16-month hiatus amid the coronavirus pandemic, the obligation for Pennsylvania Catholics to attend Mass in person will be reinstated starting next month.
“We have all felt the impact of COVID-19 as individuals and families. It has been a time of acute hardship and struggle, of separation and isolation. It has also had an impact on our lives of faith,” Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez said in a statement Thursday.
”As many aspects of life are now returning to normalcy, each Catholic Bishop in Pennsylvania will reinstate the obligation to attend Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days” beginning Aug. 15, he said.
The Catholic Church believes that once someone is baptized into Christ, they are bound to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days to share in Christ’s sacrifice, and give thanks to God.
“It’s about worship, it’s about what we owe. We go because of what He has done for us,” said Father Dennis Gill, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Divine Worship.
“Now that we can be there, we must,” he said.
As was the case before the pandemic, the church recognized reasons that someone may not attend Mass in person, such as illness, health risks, caregiving responsibilities, or a serious weather event. Pérez’s statement notes that having serious anxiety about gathering in large crowds — as could be the case for some after the pandemic — is a valid excuse. Those who cannot attend in person are still encouraged to tune in via an online broadcast, and obligated to engage in prayer or Scripture reading independently.
Skipping Mass just because you don’t want to attend, though, is a sin, Gill said.
“It becomes a sin, an offense against God … if you can worship and you say, ‘No, I don’t want to,’ ” Gill said.
“As Bishops, we welcome this moment of the reinstatement of the obligation for all Catholics in Pennsylvania. This is a moment to thank God anew for the great gift of the Mass and the Real Presence of Jesus to us in his Holy Body and Blood as well as the joy of gathering together as people of faith,” Pérez said.
The weekly obligation was dispensed and in-person services were suspended in March 2020 to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Parishes in Philadelphia and across the state hosted online livestream Masses and rosaries, though most Catholic churches stayed open for private prayer and small celebrations of penance, baptism, funerals, and weddings.
New Jersey and Delaware bishops lifted their dispensations last month.
In-person Mass resumed in Philadelphia last summer following the lifting of state coronavirus restrictions, but it was not required to attend. Gill said the archdiocese has “seen a gradual uptick from the beginning in church attendance,” with parishes in the suburbs seeing more consistent crowds than those in the city.
In May, Pérez launched a campaign called “Nothing Compares to Being There” to implore Philly Catholics to return to in-person services. The archdiocese has provided parishes with supplemental material, like testimonies and guidelines on fully participating in Mass, to help reconnect them with their parishioners and see pre-pandemic level engagement come September.
“The most important part of our duty is worshiping God, because all too often we start with ourselves and end with ourselves,” Gill said. “Yes, this is something I have to do, but for a good reason.”