Milwaukee archbishop reinstates Sunday obligation

CNA 51507239a00ad 19498 1 Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee. | File Photo/CNA.

Catholics in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee will once again be required to go to Sunday Mass if they are healthy and not caring for those who are sick. The announcement that local Catholics will once again be obligated to attend Mass follows months of disruption and the suspension of the canonical obligation during the coronavirus pandemic.

In early September, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference announced that the state's five Catholic dioceses would be lifting the dispensation from the Sunday Mass attendance obligation, but that each diocese would set their own conditions regarding who was still excused. 

"On September 14, 2020, the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation will expire, and it will be the responsibility of those who are capable and not prohibited by other circumstances to attend Sunday Mass," said a blog post published by Archbishop Jerome Listeki. 

"Those who deliberately fail to attend Sunday Mass commit a grave sin."

Listecki explained that there are "circumstances where the obligation cannot be fulfilled," such as when churches are closed and public Masses are suspended. Masses will continue to be held in line with archdiocesan guidance on social distancing, and on the necessary sanitization of churches in between Masses.  

The archbishop also detailed those who should continue to absent themselves from Mass to guard their own health, and that of the community.

"If a person is ill, especially during this pandemic, they should remain at home. Likewise, if a person is at risk because of age, underlying medical conditions or a compromised immune system, one would be excused from the obligation. If a person is caring for a sick person, even if they are not sick, they would be excused from the obligation out of charity," said Listeki.  

Listeki wrote that simply being afraid of contracting the coronavirus is not enough of a reason to skip Mass, unless there are other factors. 

"Fear of getting sick, in and of itself, does not excuse someone from the obligation. However, if the fear is generated because of at-risk factors, such as pre-existing conditions, age or compromised immune systems, then the fear would be sufficient to excuse from the obligation," he said. 

A September 10 press release from the diocese reiterated that healthy, low-risk Catholics in the archdiocese will be obligated to attend Mass from the weekend of September 19. 

"Therefore, Catholics are obliged to return to Sunday worship the following weekend. A dispensation remains for grave reasons, such as illness or the care of those who are sick," said the archdiocese.  

The archdiocese wrote that "under normal circumstances, Catholics are already dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass for grave reasons, such as illness, care for sick or infants. Today, being in the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19 is considered a grave reason."

Feedback on Listeki's decision, including on his own blog page was largely negative, with some calling the decision "idiotic," branding the archbishop a "stupid monster" and accusing him of guilting people into attending Mass. 

Jerry Topczewski, Archbishop Listeki's chief of staff, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that there had been no outbreaks connected to Mass attendance and that most parishes were doing well financially. The lifting of the dispensation was more of a concern for spiritual health rather than financial health, he said. 

"The criticism I think is a reaction to - 'Well, you're making people go.' No, people make their own decisions. This isn't a guilt-trip, this is a decision that you willfully make of your own free will," said Topczewski. 

Topczewski added that most parishes had donation levels that were roughly the same as previous years, or were "lagging slightly." No parish has been unable to pay bills, he said. 

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