Bishop J. Mark Spalding has announced the extension of the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days through Monday, Aug. 3, to protect people from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“In recent weeks we have enjoyed the measured and incremental resumption of the public celebration of Mass across the Diocese of Nashville,” Bishop Spalding wrote in a letter to the faithful of the diocese. “Still, we remain far from the ‘normal’ to which we were all accustomed.
“To encourage everyone to continue to exercise prudent care over their health and wellbeing and charity towards others, I am extending the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days through Aug. 3,” he wrote.
Previously, Bishop Spalding, following the advice of civil authorities and public health experts, suspended the public celebration of Masses and directed parishes to cancel all non-liturgical gatherings beginning on March 17 as the coronavirus pandemic spread across the United States and Tennessee. At that time he also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days.
Those actions were in effect through April 3. In response, parishes across the diocese went online to offer their congregations livestreamed Masses and other faith formation opportunities.
In early April, the bishop extended the suspension of public Masses and the dispensation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days through April 24. That forced all the Holy Week and Easter iturgies to be celebrated without a congregation and shown online.
On April 24, Bishop Spalding extended the dispensation through June 30 but announced the diocese had begun planning for the resumption of the public celebration of Masses. People were welcomed back to the celebrations of Mass beginning on May 18 with guidelines limiting attendance to no more than 50 percent of capacity and maintaining social and other steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
As he has in the past, Bishop Spalding in his latest letter to the faithful encouraged “those who are vulnerable, sick, or otherwise at risk or concerned about contracting or spreading disease, to refrain from attending Mass. Those who do choose to return to Mass should observe all guidelines concerning social distancing and diligent hygiene.
“We will be continuing to provide resources for growth in your life of faith, and opportunities to watch celebrations of Mass online,” he added. “Attending Mass on a weekday can also be a good way to participate in public worship in a smaller and more socially distanced setting.”
Bishop Spalding also has given pastors the authority to allow non-liturgical gatherings at their parishes.
“In concert with phased civic regulations that are currently expanding access to a variety of different types of gatherings, pastors may now resume non-liturgical events as they deem appropriate for their communities, with due regard for specific guidelines concerning occupancy restrictions and social distancing indicated by the civic authorities,” he wrote.
“I ask that parishes continue their practices of hand hygiene, the use of masks, and other modifications of the liturgy which are in place to minimize risk,” Bishop Spalding said in his letter. “If maintaining social distancing is possible, pastors may consider beginning to expand attendance at Masses beyond the previous 50 percent capacity restriction.”
“Allow me to express my appreciation for the willing spirit, faithfulness and concern for neighbor that you have shown as our world has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bishop Spalding wrote. “Our civic leaders and public health officials have indicated that we are making significant progress against the disease and no doubt, the sacrifices that we have made in the public practice of the faith are part of that progress.”
“As I have assured you throughout this time, please know of my sincere love and concern for all of you and your families,” he added. “My thoughts and prayers are with you. Let us pray together that this time of renewed optimism for an end to this time of crisis may soon be brought to fulfillment by the power of God’s loving care and providence.”
To read the bishop’s letter, visit www.dioceseofnashville.com.