“Do not be afraid!” (Mt 28:5) These are the first words the angel announced to the women who came to the tomb on Easter morning. The tomb was empty, and there must have been a sense of fear that the body of Jesus had been taken, but the angel assures them: “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” (Mt 28:5-6)
Just a year ago, we faced the unthinkable on Easter morning. We had to celebrate Easter Mass virtually with nobody able to attend Mass in person due to the fear of spreading COVID-19. While our hearts tried to rejoice at the victory of the Resurrection, we still had many fears about the uncertainties of what would follow. At that time, few of us actually knew anybody close to us who had contracted the virus. But within a few months, few of us did not know somebody close to us who had contracted the virus, some of whom, sadly, died as a result of getting sick.
With the number of cases going down and many people getting vaccinated, many of the fears that paralyzed us are slowly lifting. An encouraging sign of that is the announcement from our Bishop a couple of weeks ago about the modification of the dispensation from attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation effective next weekend, Divine Mercy Sunday. No longer is there need for a general dispensation for everybody. It is time for us to take seriously the invitation to return to Mass, especially if we have been away for some time, or if we have used the dispensation as rationale for not coming to Mass regularly.
There are many of us who are greeting this modification with gratitude and joy. But we must also acknowledge those whose reaction is not so enthusiastic. In fact, for some, this news has resulted in their having more fear. “Does not this create a more dangerous situation?”, some may ask. The Bishop has accounted for those who might have a legitimate reason for fear when it comes to returning to Mass, as seen in his maintaining a particular dispensation for the following cases:
- Those 65 years of age or older;
- Those at risk for severe illness due to underlying medical conditions as described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
- Those who care for the sick, homebound, or infirmed;
- Those women who are pregnant;
- Those who cannot be accommodated at Mass because the church was at safe-distancing capacity.
It is also helpful to remind Catholics that certain situations do not require a dispensation at all to miss Mass. Here are those situations in which we would be excused and expected not to attend for the good of others:
- Those who are currently ill;
- Those who have a fever or exhibit flu-like symptoms;
- Those who have good reason to think they might be asymptomatic of a contagious illness ( e.g., those who were in recent contact with someone who tested positive for a contagious illness such as COVID or influenza).
For more information about the modification of the dispensation, please go to dio.org/backtomass
In light of the above points, there may be very legitimate reasons for not coming back to Mass yet, but for many of us, there is no reason not to return. The words of the angel to the women at the tomb on Easter morning is spoken to us as well: “Do not be afraid!” We have nothing to lose, but everything to gain!
So if you have been away, I invite you back to Mass. If you have been coming, I invite you to invite somebody you know who has been away, encouraging them to not be afraid, but to rejoice in the opportunity to return to the feast of victory that Christ has made possible for us through His Passion, death, and Resurrection.