In March of this year Bishop Tobin dispensed Catholics in the Diocese of Providence from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. On May 30, the bishop allowed for the public celebration of Mass, but also continued to dispense Catholics from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass given the continuance of the global pandemic. The faithful may be wondering: is it time for me to go back to Mass?
As a rule, Sunday Mass is not optional. The requirement to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation finds its origin in the Third Commandment and the Church’s teaching. Bishop Robert Barron recently reminded the faithful that following moral prescriptions are not enough. Liturgical practice, particularly attending Mass, is essential for a Catholic.
Yet, in dispensing the faithful from attending Mass the Bishop did not invent anything new in the Church. There are many legitimate reasons why a Catholic can miss Mass and not incur mortal sin. Canon 1248 envisions the possibility that the celebration of Mass may become impossible due to the absence of a priest or other grave reason. A grave reason may include illness, disease, natural disasters, political turmoil, and the like.
So, if a person is elderly or at particular risk due to comorbidities, then that person has a grave reason and will not incur mortal sin. That person should still do some act of prayer or devotion on Sunday, however, as a demonstration that they still desire to be with God. Yet, if a person is young and healthy, then he or she can return to Mass provided that there is room. A rule of thumb may be this: If you have been eating out at restaurants, but missing Mass on Sundays, it is time to go back to Mass.