After Governor Dewine's announcement that COVID-19 restrictions in the State of Ohio would be lifted as of June 2, the Ohio Bishops issued a statement saying that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass would be reinstated, as of the weekend of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, June 5–6. Here are Bishop Thomas' words in a memo sent to parish leaders this past week:
With praise and thanksgiving to almighty God, the Catholic Bishops of Ohio have together announced the lifting of the dispensation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation. Please see the attached statement from the Ohio Bishops. In accord with the most recent decision of the Catholic Bishops of Ohio, the obligation of the faithful to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation is to resume with the Sunday Masses for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, June 5-6, 2021.
[The memo of the Ohio Bishops is available on our website.] The Bishop stated that social distancing will no longer be required; nor will masks. Of course, if people still want to wear masks, they are allowed to do so. And the Bishop also noted that there still might be people who are not yet ready to come back to the Mass, because of their own particular immune vulnerability. As is always the case, if somebody is particularly susceptible, with compromised immunity, or if a person has symptoms of sickness, that person is not obligated to attend Mass. Anybody who believes prudence dictates that he or she not attend Mass should still observe the Lord's day, keep it special, and participate in Mass by means of social media, (i.e., live streaming).
The sign of peace will be reinstated. However, everybody should realize that the sign of peace is a somber liturgical gesture. It is also optional. Also, it is not necessary even to make physical contact with the people immediately around us at the sign of peace. There very well might be parishioners who are not yet comfortable making physical contact. A simple head gesture, and a couple words, could be enough. I remember my years in Italy, serving Mother Teresa's sisters; and they never shook hands, although they were all very healthy. With folded hands, they simply nodded towards each other and said "peace". Please do not force anybody around you to shake hands, if it is obvious somebody does not want to do that.
We will not start passing the offertory basket yet, but the offertory basket will be brought up in procession with gifts at offertory time. I suggest that families who want to bring up the gifts at a particular Mass pick up the cross from the gifts table, so that the ushers know somebody is ready to carry up gifts. Otherwise ushers will find a family to bring up gifts. At my last parish it was usually families who had a listed Mass intention who brought up the gifts. I think this can be much more efficient than trying to schedule offertory families ahead of time.
The Bishop's memo stated that the cup of Precious Blood may be reinstated at Communion time; but this is up to the discretion of the pastor. We are not going to bring back the cup at Communion time yet at this parish. This is because we are all so aware of passing viruses; and to drink out of the same cup is a pretty blatant way of sharing germs/viruses with other persons who drink from the cup. Throughout this pandemic, I have heard of all of the various virus strains that have cropped up and will continue to crop up. I don't think it is prudent to bring back the cup until we are well through the COVID-19 threat.
Here is one final note from the Bishop regarding the Our Father:
The faithful should be reminded/catechized to refrain from physical contact (handholding) during the Lord’s Prayer, a gesture that is not prescribed in the Roman Missal. This moment is an opportunity to explain to the faithful of those congregations where this practice has become a custom that such a practice should be permanently discontinued. Extending hands during the Lord’s Prayer is reserved to the Priest Celebrant and concelebrating Priests only who pray together with the people (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 237).
So, there are the changes in the Bishop's memo that are pertinent to our parish. Please remember that – although the obligation to attend Mass is being reinstated – you are never required to attend Mass, if you believe that prudence dictates otherwise; (i.e., if you are particularly vulnerable to sickness because of a weakened immune system). And, please remember that we beg you not to attend Mass if you believe that you are sick. There is no sin involved in missing Mass for these grave reasons. [There is grave sin in missing Mass for no good reason. The Eucharist is the Source and Summit of our Faith. That fact is enough to explain why the Church teaches that it is mortal sin to avoid Mass without serious reason. Missing Holy Mass is like deciding not to show up to your own wedding. The Mass is the re-representation of Calvary, Jesus' gift of Himself to us as the Bridegroom of the Church. Calvary is where Jesus mystically consummated his marriage with the Church.]
Thank the Lord for this next step in our survival of COVID-19! Let's move forward with prudence, and let's appreciate each others' faces… and the face of God – His Son Jesus Christ in the Eucharist!
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae et Iosephus,