A Letter from Archbishop Hebda
June 3, 2021
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I write to you with important news and a grateful heart. After much prayer, consultation, and discussion, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota today announced that the Sunday Mass obligation will return the weekend of July 3-4. I encourage each of you to read the full text of the Minnesota bishops’ statement, which may be found here. It includes the rationale for the decision, the importance of the return to the Mass, and possible exceptions to the Sunday obligation.
Many of you have generously shared with me over the past 15 months stories of how difficult the pandemic has been on you, your loved ones, your jobs, your parishes, your communities and beyond. So many have lost so much, including family and friends. Please join me in remembering those who have died and those among us who continue to grieve their loss.
At the same time, many of you have shared stories of great sacrifice by healthcare workers, doctors and others who risked their own health and safety to help others in the midst of the pandemic. These women and men continue to exemplify real charity and courage as they move from treating COVID-19 patients to resuming their assigned roles in our clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and other care facilities. I know my appreciation for our sisters and brothers in healthcare and emergency services has only grown during this crisis. I am truly grateful to them and to their family members, who also endured heightened risks to health and safety.
My gratitude extends, as well, to all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. Some of you have sacrificed Sunday and daily Mass attendance for more than a year to minimize the risk to the loved ones with whom you live, and often for whom you care, and to the healthcare personnel who would have to care for you in the event that you became ill. You have shared with me the heartbreak you experienced by not being able to receive our Lord in the Eucharist. Many others, thankfully, have been able to safely return to in-person Mass since the end of last May due to the diligence and extraordinary coordination and safety protocols put into place by our dedicated priests, parish staffs and volunteers. These same teams also worked creatively, instituting parking lot Masses and initiating efforts to make the Mass available through livestreaming and digital ministries. The generosity of so many has kept our parishes open and operating – providing support and services to our sisters and brothers who count on them for spiritual assistance and accompaniment and even social services.
I continue to be grateful to our parish and school staffs. Their hard work and flexibility during constantly changing conditions and directives made it possible for the work of Christ to continue. Our Catholic school and religious education students were able to learn continuously – in-person and remotely – throughout the year. Parish staffs have supported existing ministries and started new ones, often times behind-the-scenes with little or no recognition for their innovation and creativity.
The hard work of our parishes and school staff have allowed us to gather safely throughout this year. That safety has only increased as we gratefully see so many signs that the pandemic is receding. Given those positive developments, I want to encourage those who have stayed away to come back and worship together. We know that we need the strength that comes from the sacraments in order to live our Christian life and we know that our parish communities are not complete without you.
As we fully return to the Sunday Mass in early July, please join me in praying for the souls of those who have died from COVID-19, those who grieve them and for an end to the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe. Please also join my prayers of gratitude for the faithful of the Archdiocese and for those who serve so many in our parishes, schools and Catholic entities. May you know an abundance of divine blessings as we all return to the Lord’s table.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda
Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis
Returning to Mass:
July 1 Marks End of Dispensation in Minnesota
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a painful time of separation that necessitated, for a short while, suspension of public Masses and the dispensation from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. Nonetheless, since May 2020, Minnesota’s bishops have made available the public celebration of Mass to those who wished to attend. Parishes have done an amazing job creating safe spaces for worship and the sacraments during the past year.
Now, as the pandemic subsides, and public gathering restrictions and safety protocols are lifted, it is time to gather as the Body of Christ once again. Therefore, the bishops and diocesan administrators of the Minnesota Catholic Conference have decided to reinstate the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation beginning the weekend of July 3-4, 2021.
Why is attending Mass in-person so important?
St. John Chrysostom reminds us, “You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests” (CCC 2179).
Attending the in-person celebration of Sunday Mass and receiving Jesus in the Eucharist are vital to our lives as Catholic Christians. We were created for Communion. Whether you are returning to your home parish, or seeking a local parish on vacation, your participation in the Mass unites you with the Church — the Body of Christ. This communion transforms us as persons and enables us to make manifest the Kingdom of God in our world. The celebration of the Eucharist truly is the source and summit of our faith.
Pope Francis, in his homily on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 2018, said, “Jesus prepares a place for us here below, because the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church. It gives her birth and rebirth; it gathers her together and gives her strength. But the Eucharist also prepares for us a place on high, in eternity, for it is the Bread of heaven.”
Does this mean there will no longer be any dispensation from the Sunday and Holy Day obligations?
Although the general dispensation will no longer be available, the Church has always recognized that certain circumstances can excuse a person from the requirement to observe the obligation. Persons are excused from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays or Holy Days under the following circumstances:
1. You have reason to believe your health 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).
2. You exhibit flu-like symptoms.
3. You have good reason to think you might be asymptomatic of a contagious illness (e.g., you were in recent contact with someone who tested positive for a contagious illness such as COVID-19 or influenza).
4. You care for the sick, homebound, or infirmed.
5. You are pregnant or you are 65 years of age or older (per the CDC’s recommendation for high-risk individuals).
6. You cannot attend Mass through no fault of your own (e.g., no Mass is offered; you are infirm; or, while wanting to go, you are prevented for some reason you cannot control, such as your ride did not show up).
7. You have significant fear or anxiety of becoming ill by being at Mass.
If situations 1 through 3 apply to you, prudent concern for your neighbor should lead you to stay home. If you fall within situations 4-7, please exercise good judgment, consider the common good, and know you would not be held to the obligation of attending Mass. For further questions about the application of any of these situations, please contact your pastor. These categories will be reviewed in due course and revised as needed.
Those within the categories enumerated above must still observe the Lord’s Day and are encouraged to spend time in prayer on Sunday, meditating on the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection; an excellent way to do this is by praying the Liturgy of the Hours and participating in a broadcast/livestream of the Sunday Mass.
More information, answers to frequently asked questions, and a portal to each diocese’s protocols can be found at the website backtomassmn.org.
The return of our faith family to Mass is a joyous occasion. With that in mind, we also encourage the faithful to post on social media about their return-to-Mass worship experiences using the hashtag #backtomassmn. Wherever you may be, welcome home!
Most Rev. Bernard A. Hebda, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Most Rev. Andrew H. Cozzens, Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Most Rev. John M. Quinn, Bishop of Winona-Rochester
Most Rev. Donald J. Kettler, Bishop of St. Cloud
Most Rev. Daniel J. Felton, Bishop of Duluth
Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Apostolic Administrator of Crookston
Very Rev. Douglas L. Grams, Diocesan Administrator of New Ulm