PROVIDENCE — Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has signed a formal rescript restoring the obligation to attend Sunday Mass in the Diocese of Providence effective Sunday, June 6, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.
In a May 13 pastoral letter to the faithful of the diocese the bishop welcomed the faithful back to church.
“Dear brothers and sisters, it’s time. It’s time to come home. It’s time to return to Sunday Mass,” Bishop Tobin wrote.
“This means that Catholics, in observance of the Lord’s Day and in fulfillment of the law of the Church, are once again obliged to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, unless they are dispensed for some serious reason.”
“And as always, Catholics are dispensed from the Sunday obligation for other grave reasons such as illness, caring for the ill, the unavoidable obligations of their employment, and travel that disrupts their schedules,” Bishop Tobin said.
While the moral and canonical obligation to attend Holy Mass every Sunday is an essential part of being Catholic, the bishop added that there are other very compelling reasons to celebrate their faith in this way.
“We attend Mass because we love God and we want to thank him for all the gifts and blessings he has given us,” he wrote.
“We attend Mass to hear his sacred Word proclaimed, to receive the Holy Eucharist, and to be with other members of our faith community. In short, attending Mass is an obligation, a serious obligation, but more importantly, it is a great privilege and an incomparable source of grace and peace.”
After more than 14 months since
Bishop Tobin issued a March 12, 2020 decree dispensing all Catholics in the Diocese of Providence of the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, the lifting of the dispensation marks a turning point in the return to a normal pastoral life, as well as an opportunity for the faithful to renew their appreciation and love for the Holy Eucharist and all the sacraments and devotions of the Church.
The bishop issued a call to action to all priests, deacons and parish leaders to be creative, proactive, warm and welcoming in their outreach to their parishioners as they invite them to return.
Father Michael Woolley, pastor of SS. John & Paul Parish in Coventry, said he read Bishop Tobin’s letter to the congregations at the end of each Mass this past weekend.
“Restoring the obligation is a sign that we’re going in a good direction,” Father Woolley said of the downturn in positive COVID cases in the state and a corresponding increase in the number of worshippers he has been seeing at Masses.
“We took the tape off pews last weekend and it looks like we’re getting back to normal numbers. We’re down two Masses [from their pre-COVID schedule], but more and more are coming in. I think people feel safe to go with all of these things that we’re doing. Every week our numbers keep growing and we’re seeing faces that we haven’t seen in over a year. I’m hearing from people, ‘Oh I’m so happy to be finally back in person.’”
At St. Pius X Church in Westerly, Father Michael Najim said he has seen the number of parishioners in the pews grow over the last several weeks.
“I’m overjoyed that restrictions have begun to loosen,” the pastor said.
“While our attendance has been fairly strong since returning to public Mass last spring, we have without a doubt been seeing a big increase in Mass attendance over the last several weeks,” Father Najim said.
“It is so good to see many old familiar faces, especially some of our elderly parishioners who are now vaccinated and feel comfortable returning to Mass.”
Father Najim said that he and his brother priests are taking Bishop Tobin’s call to action to heart and will welcome their parishioners back with increased fervor after the most difficult year that the world has experienced in recent memory.
“While we need to do our best to encourage our parishioners to return to Mass, I’ve actually been very impressed with our Mass attendance. It’s much stronger than I anticipated,” he said.
Likewise, so have been the parish’s weekly collections. In fact, he said they are now stronger than before the pandemic.
“Throughout this past year, I’ve been overwhelmed by the generosity of our parishioners,” Father Najim said. “It is a real testament to the goodness and generosity of our parishioners.”
At St. Charles Borromeo Church in Providence, Father Jaime Garcia said that it has been an especially tough year for his congregation, but things have been slowly improving.
He said this past weekend saw about 300 parishioners at a Sunday Mass where 1,000 had been in attendance early last year before the pandemic.
The pastor said that St. Charles’ predominantly Spanish-speaking community — where families numbering five, seven and even 12 members are common — has lost many members to COVID-19 over the past year and some parishioners are hesitant to return to large group settings.
The virus is still having an impact, he said, noting how he had to cancel both a baptism and a funeral at the last minute when some members of each family became infected.
“The community has been responding, but they are taking their time,” Father Garcia said. “Some people are still very cautious, but mainly they are very happy to receive the good news [that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is being reinstated].
“Personally, I’m very happy and very joyful to receive this news, especially with the way that Bishop Tobin has conducted everything along the state health guidelines established to keep people safe. The guidelines he has given us to celebrate Mass are very appropriate.”
On Monday, the Diocese of Providence released an update on COVID-19 directives for parishes and diocesan agencies in light of new health guidance from the CDC, the Governor and the Rhode Island Department of Health.
As of Friday, May 21, indoor seating capacity is increased from 80 percent to 100 percent, and fully vaccinated parishioners are no longer required to wear a face mask indoors or outdoors.
Those who are not fully vaccinated should be asked to continue to wear a face mask indoors, however.
Parish social gatherings may resume with 100 percent seating capacity.
Pastors are asked to provide sufficient had sanitizing dispensers at the vestibule of each church and to encourage their parishioners to practice proper hand hygiene. They should also allow for proper ventilation for increased airflow and HVAC filtration when possible.
The distribution of the Precious Blood at Holy Communion to the lay faithful should remain suspended.