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COVID-19 mass dispensation for area Catholics to end in March

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The region's Catholics again wil be obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation starting on March 13, the Archdiocese of Detroit's archbishop announced Tuesday.

“In allowing the general dispensation to expire, we welcome back to Mass all Catholics who have already been engaged in other activities that would present a similar or greater risk of exposure, such as eating out at restaurants, traveling, partaking in non-essential shopping, and widening one’s circle of contacts," said Archbishop Allen Vigneron in a statement. "These individuals should also prepare to return to Mass in recognition of its preeminence in our lives as Catholics.” 

Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron blesses and distributes ashes to Jaimi Sierzenga of Grosse Pointe during the Ash Wednesday service at St. Aloysius Church.

The general dispensation started in March, when the first coronavirus cases emerged in Michigan, and Masses were suspended. It had been in place throughout the pandemic, mirroring the restrictions Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state officials implemented to slow the spread of the virus, such as limiting gatherings.

Public Masses resumed in May with limited building capacity, cleaning protocols and other safety measures, the Archdiocese of Detroit said.

In November, Vigneron announced the general dispensation would continue through Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17 amid rising COVID-19 cases.

Worship also adapted with livestreamed services.

"While this has been a means to help Catholics nourish their souls when they could not be present for Mass, we must remember that it cannot become the norm," Vigneron  said in a letter to the faifhful Tuesday. "God did not come to us virtually. He came to us — and continues to come to us — in the flesh. "

The Archdiocese of Detroit said the general dispensation ending next month should be seen as "signaling for many Catholics that as they resume other activities, it is also time to return to the heart and foundation of their faith."

Liturgical directives remain in place, including 50% capacity, frequent building sanitation, and requirements for masks and social distancing among congregants, the archdiocese said Tuesday.

Noting "there remains the concern for spread of infection, particularly among the winter months when we live indoors to a greater degree," Vigneron said his letter, "I am granting particular dispensations from the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation for people in certain circumstances, including those who are ill and those who care for anyone who is at-risk of serious complications from COVID-19."

The archdiocese website lists other circumstances when worshipers do not have an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday, such as being pregnant or age 65 or older.

"Those who would experience significant anxiety or fear of getting sick from being in a public setting are similarly dispensed from their obligation to attend," Vigneron said in his letter.

Meanwhile, the archdiocese said it "is committed to assisting pastors to adjust Mass schedules or offer additional public Masses, insofar as possible, to make it easier for as many of the faithful as possible to attend Mass while still practicing social distancing during the approaching Lent and Easter seasons."

Information is available at https://www.aod.org/comehometohope.

The dispensation news came as Michigan on Tuesday added the lowest number of new daily cases of the coronavirus since September.

Last week, Whitmer's administration allowed indoor dining at restaurants and bars in Michigan to resume, with restrictions, some 75 days after it was suspended.