Bishop Anthony B. Taylor announced Sept. 25 that beginning Oct. 1 he is ending the dispensation from the obligation of in-person Sunday Mass attendance.
Beginning March 12, the bishop dispensed with Sunday Mass obligation in the Diocese of Little Rock as a temporary measure to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Starting Oct. 1 all Catholics are obligated to attend Sunday Mass and holy days of obligation if they are “in good health and not especially vulnerable or caring for someone who is especially vulnerable.”
His complete letter “to the people of the Diocese of Little Rock,” reads:
“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and our Sunday communal celebration of the Eucharist is a central and non-negotiable part of who we are as Catholics. However, in view of the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, effective March 12, 2020, I dispensed everyone in the Diocese of Little Rock temporarily from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass in person, with the stipulation that everyone keep holy the Lord’s Day in other ways, for instance through participation in Mass transmitted over the internet, through Eucharistic adoration or other time spent in prayer, for instance a family rosary.
“And then effective the weekend of March 21-22, in view of the increasing danger and following the advice of our governor, the public celebration of Mass was suspended for the entire state of Arkansas, with the exception of small, self-contained groups at the discretion of the priest. This was consistent with the steps taken in dioceses throughout the world and lasted for six weeks.
“On May 4 -- once we had a clearer idea of the steps to be taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at Mass -- I authorized the resumption of the public celebration of Mass on a limited basis with the stipulation that all participants be required to wear masks the entire time they are in the Church, that the space occupied not exceed 25 percent occupancy, that 6 feet of physical separation be maintained between family groups and individuals, plus other steps be taken to ensure the safety of the participants, including the sanitizing of hands and surfaces, the temporary removal of hymn books and the temporary suspension of the ministry of choirs and altar servers. The progressive re-opening of our churches continued throughout the summer and as of June 15 we were able to authorize up to 66 percent occupancy in churches where that was possible while still maintaining the required use of masks and 6 feet physical distancing. During this time the dispensation from the obligation of in-person Sunday Mass attendance continued.
“Today I am happy to announce that our anti-COVID protocols have been effective in preventing the spread of the disease at Mass. We are not aware of even a single case of transmission linked to participation in worship in any Catholic Church in Arkansas -- or for that matter, not any other Catholic Church in the United States where these protocols were in place.
“Therefore, we are now in a position to lift the dispensation from the obligation of in-person Sunday Mass attendance for everyone who is in good health and not especially vulnerable or caring for someone who is especially vulnerable effective Oct. 1.
The celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of our relationship with Jesus, whose true body and blood, soul and divinity we receive in this sacrament -- the greatest treasure in our lives. Of course, if a person feels ill, or has been exposed to COVID-19 and is in quarantine, or is otherwise especially vulnerable, for instance due to chronic illness or the frailty of old age, they remain dispensed but still have the obligation to otherwise keep the Lord’s Day holy.
“In the event that due to the ongoing requirement of physical distancing, the number of people seeking to attend Mass exceeds the capacity of the church building and any overflow areas provided, any who are turned away have fulfilled their obligation before the Lord by the mere fact of having attempted to come to Mass, so long as they then participate in Mass via the internet, or observe some other way of keeping holy the Lord’s Day, for instance through a family rosary or time spent in Eucharistic adoration.”
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