Published April 29, 2021 | En Español
ATLANTA—Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., shares the following letter to Catholics in the Archdiocese regarding expiration of the dispensation of obligation to attend Mass:
“To the people of the Archdiocese of Atlanta:
Peace and all good to you!
The Easter Season is always a time of joy and hope. It’s an invitation to celebrate the redemption of the world and often a time for people to return to church. The Eucharist, in the Vatican document Lumen Gentium, is called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Jesus himself tells us, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (Jn 6: 54-56)
Last year, we took the extraordinary step of limiting access to our churches in order to protect our vulnerable brothers and sisters from the COVID-19 virus. Now that vaccines are available to any Georgian older than 16, I believe it is time to begin to bring more people physically back to church.
Pentecost is the birthday of the church and a time when we should let the Holy Spirit guide our path. It is an appropriate time to take our next step forward to full reopening of our churches.
On May 22, prior to the celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost, the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass will expire in the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Your pastor and I are very excited to welcome you back. I hope you know how much you have been missed at your parish. While the general dispensation will lift, I am putting into place some exceptions for certain circumstances. They are outlined at the end of this letter.
We will still require masks and social distancing in our parishes, in accordance with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control. This means that people should maintain a reasonable healthy space between themselves and others who are outside of their families, to be determined at the level of each parish. Parishes can still have outdoor Masses to accommodate more people.
I would like to take a moment to express my deep gratitude to the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. I know they have struggled in this last year. Their creativity and dedication have been amazing. I am grateful for each of them. I would also like to thank parish employees and volunteers. In many cases, you literally rolled up your sleeves and did the difficult work of making it possible for people to stay connected to our Lord during a dark time. Thank you.
While the general dispensation is removed, there are specific persons for whom the dispensation will, for the time being, still be applicable, as well as persons for whom there is no obligation in the first place according to the norms of canon law. One does not have an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday or a holy day of obligation in the following circumstances:
- You are ill or you have a health condition that would be significantly compromised if you were to contract a communicable illness (i.e., you have underlying conditions or are in a high-risk category). Please use the dispensation and do not attend Mass.
- You are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
- You have been exposed to someone who has tested positive or you have reason to think you might be asymptomatic of a contagious illness.
- You care for the sick, homebound, or infirm.
- You are pregnant.
- You are 65 years of age or older (per the CDC’s recommendation of high-risk individuals).
- You cannot attend Mass through no fault of your own (e.g., no Mass is offered, you are infirm, your ride did not show up, the church was at capacity).
- You have significant fear or anxiety of becoming ill by being at Mass.
For questions about how these might apply to you, please contact your pastor. These categories will be reviewed in due course and revised as needed.
Persons legitimately dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass are still to observe the Lord’s Day by participating in a broadcast of the Sunday Mass or by spending time in prayer or meditating on Scripture, either individually or as a family.
We cannot live without the Eucharist, and the church is not fully alive without its congregation. We cannot wait to welcome you back this Pentecost.”