Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
During these difficult months during the pandemic, I have granted a general dispensation from the grave obligation that we as Catholic Christians have to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in the Archdiocese of Detroit, in part to help ease the conscience of those who are unable to be present for public worship due to risk of illness to themselves or their families. The most recent dispensation expires on November 22, at which point we had hoped the pandemic would have eased enough to allow all of us to return in an unrestricted way to our celebrations of the Holy Eucharist.
Unfortunately, local and state health officials report that we not only continue to experience an increase in cases in our region and elsewhere, but that the rate of increase is rising dramatically and dangerously. I have been in communication with leaders in our Catholic hospitals and they are very concerned about the immediate future and the challenges they face caring for all those in need, not just those experiencing serious complications from COVID-19.
After carefully considering these and other factors, I am extending the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for people living in or visiting the Archdiocese of Detroit until Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021. As we have from the beginning, we will continue to closely monitor the situation in our region, with an eye on the day – hopefully in the not-too-distant future – when all of us are able to safely reunite in our normal patterns of worship.
This extension is given so as not to unduly bind the consciences of those who are greatly troubled by the destructive potency of the coronavirus, and to care for the most vulnerable among us, such as the elderly. At the same time, one should not take advantage of the dispensation without a true need. Catholics who have already begun to engage in non-essential activities, such as widening one’s social circle or going out to eat, should return to Sunday Mass – an essential activity – as church capacity allows. Our souls greatly need the grace that comes from the re-presentation of Christ’s saving death and resurrection and this is what Jesus has entrusted to us in the celebration of the Mass. Just as businesses, schools, and other locations have opened safely, so have our parishes. Our pastors, parishes, and the faithful have worked diligently and adapted well in order to ensure the health and well-being of everyone who has been able to come to church for Mass, Confession, or to pray. I want to offer my sincere gratitude for the efforts that have been undertaken to implement and maintain the first-rate precautionary measures that have kept our parishes and schools safe.
Keeping Holy the Lord’s Day
Whether or not they are able to attend Mass, all baptized Catholics are reminded of the grave necessity they have to keep holy the Lord’s Day. This a divine law that neither I nor anyone else can ever dispense. Sunday is the day of the Resurrection of our Lord, and as such Christians from the earliest days have set it apart as a day unlike others. When it is not possible to participate in person in the Sacrifice of the Mass, it is vitally important for every member of the Catholic Church to observe the Sabbath by prioritizing prayer, time for God and for family, and works of charity. To that end, many of our parishes have been broadcasting their services over the internet during these last several months. While this virtual means of watching Mass can never replace the unmediated contact with the Real Presence of Our Lord we receive by being present and participating in Mass, these livestreamed Masses have been a way to help Catholics nourish their souls when they cannot be present for Mass.
Let us trust that the Lord accompanies us through all difficulties, including this pandemic. As we approach Advent and prepare for flu season, we should remember to pray daily for health care workers, first responders, including our priests, and all who are and will offer compassionate service and healing in the months to come. Let us also continue to invoke Our Lady of Lourdes, patroness for those who suffer illness, asking her to pray with us for healing and protection for the people of southeast Michigan and beyond.
With assurances of my prayers for you, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron
Archbishop of Detroit