Citing local COVID surge, Dallas diocese prolongs dispensation from Sunday obligation

Bishop Burns Then-Archbishop Edward Burns of Anchorage-Juneau, 2015 | Catholic News Agency

The Diocese of Dallas announced this week that it is extending a dispensation from the Sunday obligation for Catholics, due to the local spread of the coronavirus. 

“In light of the recent surge in COVID cases and concern about the spread of the Delta variant, Bishop Edward Burns has postponed reinstating the requirement for Catholics to attend Mass in person in the Diocese of Dallas,” the diocesean website announced on Aug. 10. 

Bishop Burns had first issued the dispensation in March 2020, as the virus spread throughout the United States. On July 15, 2021, he announced that the dispensation would be lifted one month later on Sunday, Aug. 15. 

Now, with the prolonged dispensation, the celebration of Mass will continue, but without the obligation to attend on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. It is unclear how long the dispensation will last. The diocese says Bishop Burns will monitor his decision “frequently,” as more information becomes available.  

“This decision has not been made lightly as we all desire to get beyond the ongoing effects of this pandemic,” Burns stated. “We will continue to monitor this situation closely and as soon as we are safely able to do so, we will get back to normal.”

The bishop said that COVID-related requirements issued in April still remain effective. He noted that pastors will retain the authority to make gathering and seating requirements at parishes - although they should at least designate a socially-distanced section at their churches for people with serious concerns about COVID-19.

He added that there is an “expectation” that masks will be worn “out of charity for others, especially in Dallas county.” Burns wrote that parishes “are not to single out or draw attention to those who are not wearing masks at Mass or other liturgical celebrations.”

Pastors are encouraged to “remain mindful” of health concerns of the parish and to avoid “unnecessarily large groupings of people.”

Other notable procedures in Burns’ Phase 3 Decree are the suspension of the sign of peace and of distribution of the Precious Blood, and a requirement that Eucharistic Ministers wear face masks. 

The decree added that” individuals should remove face coverings and gloves before approaching to receive communion.”

Dallas County, Texas has seen a rise in COVID cases beginning in July, with nearly 800 new cases as of Aug. 10, according to the New York Times. There were four COVID-related deaths reported that day, with a seven-day average of three deaths per day.

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