"In the first place we should reclaim that essential link between baptismal identity and participation in the liturgy," said Bradley.
But people cannot always receive the Eucharist, either because Mass is unavailable, or they have not had access to Confession. What must they do then?
"We first of all participate in the liturgy by our attendance at the Mass. This is why the Sunday obligation is about attendance, not about receiving Holy Communion," said Bradley. However, he noted the reception of Communion is "essential" for a person's spiritual life. He encouraged those who cannot receive to make an Act of Spiritual Communion, but to strive for actual reception if at all possible.
Many parishes have taken the step of offering live-streams or recordings of Masses for people while the Sunday obligation to attend has been dispensed. Both Bradley and Petri agreed that while the live-streams are good, in that they maintain a connection between a parishioner and their parish and encourage prayers, they cannot be viewed as a substitute for regular Mass attendance in non-pandemic times.
Live-streaming "is not a waste of time--it can offer a chance to unite ourselves in some way to the action going on--but it is not the same as attending Mass and can never replace it," Bradley told CNA.
Petri concurred, saying that there is "no substitute for attending and participating in Mass physically," and that sacramental graces can only be conferred in person.
"While graces are certainly to be had by quieting oneself to watch Mass online, they are not, properly speaking, the sacramental graces that one receives by participating in Mass in person," said Petri. He suggested that as an alternative to watching a live-stream of Mass--which is not required, as there is no obligation to do so--those who are unable to attend Mass in person should "treat Sundays differently" than the other days, read scripture, and meditate on the day's Mass readings.
"I suspect families with children would have an easier time with a Sunday routine like this rather than insisting that children passively watch Mass on the television," he said.
And what about those of who get distracted during Mass, either by daydreaming or because they are watching children? Does it "count" as participation even when other things are happening?
Fr. Petri says yes, but with a caveat.
"Distractions during Mass, or during any prayer, are as old as original sin itself," he said. Remaining focused is "a battle that I'm afraid we will all be fighting until that day, when, God-willing, we see Him face-to-face."
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Petri differentiated between "willful distraction," which would be letting one's mind wander, and distractions that come from other sources, such as children.
"If I'm willfully distracting myself, then I don't think I can claim I'm participating interiorly as I should, even if exteriorly I'm going through the motions," he said. "Of course, the Lord meets us where we are and so there's still graces to be gained by even this minimal participation in the liturgy--but we know we should try to do better."
As for those who may be distracted at Mass by say, a toddler or other child, Petri says that these occurrences are part of what comes with having a family.
"It seems the vocation of parenthood means that a person will necessarily be giving less attention and participation to the holy mysteries at liturgy for a significant amount of time in their lives," he said. "But they, too, are receiving graces not only because of the participation they can muster, but because of the sacrifice they make in acclimating their children to the worship of God."