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Cardinal reinstates Mass obligation beginning June 19-20


  • A priest holds up a chalice in Bethany Chapel at the archdiocese’s Pastoral Center in Braintree. Pilot file photo/Gregory L. Tracy
  • Cardinal O’Malley celebrates a televised Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in May 2020. After 15 months of dispensation, the cardinal is reinstating Sunday Mass obligation in the archdiocese. Pilot photo/ Gregory L. Tracy

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BRAINTREE -- Fifteen months after dispensing Catholics in the Archdiocese of Boston from the obligation to attend Mass because of the pandemic, Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley is reinstating this core responsibility of the Catholic faithful, effective the weekend of June 19-20. This means that, with exceptions for those who are sick, homebound, or particularly vulnerable, Catholics must participate in the Mass on Sundays and holy days.

This long-awaited news was announced in a June 8 letter from Cardinal O'Malley to the faithful of the archdiocese. It came as bishops across the country are lifting dispensations in their respective dioceses.

"Aware that the opportunity to participate in Sunday Mass is increasingly available and increasingly safe for our Catholic people, we are joining dioceses in the Boston Province ... in lifting the dispensation of the Sunday and Holy Day Mass obligation, effective the weekend of June 19 and 20, 2021," the cardinal said in his letter.

The cardinal noted several exceptions to the obligation to attend Mass. It does not apply to those who are ill; those who are unable to be vaccinated; those who have recently been exposed to the coronavirus or other communicable diseases; and those who are confined to their homes, hospitals, or other facilities due to illness, infirmity, frailty, or age.

The cardinal encouraged parishioners to consult their local pastor if they have questions about this obligation.

Attending Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is a central aspect of living out the Catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church No. 2181 states that: "The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants). Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin."

In 1991, the USCCB named six solemnities to be observed as holy days of obligation: the Mary, Mother of God, on Jan. 1; the Ascension on the Thursday of the sixth week of Easter; the Assumption on Aug. 15; All Saints on Nov. 1; the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8; and the Nativity on Dec. 25. The obligation to attend Mass on a holy day is abrogated if it falls on a Saturday or a Monday.

In the Archdiocese of Boston, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days went into effect March 13, 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Churches were closed to the public, and the celebration of public Masses was suspended, until May 23, 2020. But even when churches reopened and gradually resumed their activities, the dispensation remained in effect, as state restrictions limited the number of people who could be present in houses of worship and people remained concerned about public gatherings.

In light of the wide distribution of coronavirus vaccines and the decline in active cases and hospitalizations, pandemic restrictions in Massachusetts were lifted on May 29. This prompted the bishops of the Boston Province to discuss plans for lifting the dispensations in their respective dioceses, Cardinal O'Malley said in the June 4 post of his weekly blog, CardinalSeansBlog.org.

The Archdiocese of Boston's lifting of the dispensation June 19-20 coincides with that of other dioceses in the Boston Province, including Fall River, Springfield, Manchester, and Portland. The Diocese of Worcester previously lifted its dispensation for the weekend of June 5-6, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.

In his letter, Cardinal O'Malley said they chose Father's Day, which this year falls on June 20, as "an appropriate day to encourage all of our people, and especially our families, to return to the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist."

"Let us gather together again in joy, as one people united around the Eucharist," he said.

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