During the week after Easter this year, the archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, wrote a letter to his flock entitled “It’s Time to Get Back to Mass!” His message served several purposes: an announcement, a teaching, and a reflection on the necessity of worship in the life of the believer.
Dolan acknowledged the national and public health crisis of the coronavirus allowed the faithful to excuse themselves from Sunday worship for a time. The elderly and those with serious health conditions have been, and always have been, excused from attending Sunday Mass.
Dolan continues, however, “For the majority of us — are we going to restaurants? To the kids’s soccer and little league games? To the store? To the beauty parlor? To gatherings with family and friends? Well, then, it’s time to get back to Mass.”
His letter continues with an account of a pastor in his diocese who recalled that upon visiting a grocery store, he encountered several parishioners who stated how much they missed attending Sunday Mass. Finally, after more than a few occasions of this, he expressed to these families that they were shopping in a larger crowd than attends a typical Mass. “Church is a lot safer!” he exclaimed.
Many bishops acted out of fear and shut the doors of their churches for lengthy periods during spring 2020. This just so happened to encapsulate Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, the holiest time of year for Christians.
While some may argue that this was the only option to keep people safe, it is clear that locking the doors to the public has harmed the church, especially those in its flock. Many have noted that if houses of worship were willing to close themselves right when people were highly aware of their need for God, then maybe it isn’t all that important to attend after all.
Dolan’s diocese, along with countless others across the globe, rose to the occasion and provided live-stream opportunities for the faithful to watch Mass at home. “Our parishes responded with live-stream Masses, but all know those, however much appreciated, are not the same as being there.” Many churches also continued to abide by government regulations to offer extremely small and distanced in-person services right through the pandemic.
That’s because Catholic Mass is not simply an experience or remembrance, but where Jesus Christ becomes truly and genuinely present. Technology can be a great supplement, but it’s a horrible substitute for the real thing.
Unfortunately, many Catholics find watching the Mass on their devices to be more convenient. After all, they can multitask while viewing! Since the “crutch” of livestream worship was created by the church, it must be confronted by the church as well.
Not only is it safe to attend Mass in person, but it is necessary to heed the divine call of God, as Exodus 20:8 implores us: “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day!” For this reason, Dolan and other bishops across the country are strongly advocating that Catholics return to Mass.
If most of us can resume our work schedules, if millions of children can go to school, and if we can go shopping and spend time in other large public places, then we can certainly go to Mass. Truly, we should have been putting Mass before doing any of these things. Both the threat of the virus and COVID restrictions are loosening, so we must make God a priority. As Dolan put it:
Wear masks, yes! Get tested, you bet! Wash hands, please! Get vaccinated as soon as you can, sure! Keep social distancing, of course! Don’t go if you’re sick, elderly or your health is shaky, obviously! Don’t shake hands! Be grateful good folks carefully sanitize the Church after each Mass. But, for God’s sake, get back to Sunday Mass!
No doubt, Easter Sunday services saw an increase in attendance across the board, but now that the holiest time of the year is over, numbers are bound to return to their normal and less than stellar figures. If we have learned anything over the last year it’s the fact that life is precious and fragile. Ideally, this realization ought to lead one to a place where focus on God becomes more important, necessary, and natural.
To highlight the essential nature of worship for the human person, the Indiana state legislature recently passed a bill stating that, in the future, churches will be viewed as essential services during disaster emergencies. “Religious organizations provide essential services that are necessary for the health and welfare of the public during a disaster emergency,” the bill noted. We should not simply turn to God when things are difficult, and we cannot settle for Mass only on Christmas and Easter.
A 2019 Pew Research Center study found attending worship services even leads to more happiness and increased engagement in other civic activities. Those who worship regularly are statistically happier with their lives and more positively involved in their local communities.
Worship is therefore not merely an obedient response to the divine call to honor God and make the divine a priority, but praising God in communion with others makes us better. Worship makes us more human; it is in our nature to spend time with God because it is there that we are crafted into who we were made to be.
For this reason, Cardinal Dolan decided to emphatically call the believers in his community back to the most important place on earth. It’s the place, in fact, where heaven and earth meet. Where we place God in our lives is the most important factor.
Worship is safe. Worship is essential. Worship is necessary. So, let’s get back to church.