CLEVELAND — Roman Catholics in Ohio will soon no longer have an official excuse to avoid attending Mass.
All six dioceses throughout the state will reinstate the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and Holy Days of obligation beginning the weekend of June 5-6. The move will coincide with Gov. Mike DeWine's directive that all of Ohio's COVID-19 related health orders be lifted the preceding Wednesday, June 2.
Archbishop of Cincinnati Dennis M. Schnurr and the state's five other diocesan bishops (including Cleveland's Edward C. Malesic) released a statement that said, in part:
"We are profoundly grateful to our pastors and all of the faithful for their flexibility, fidelity and great generosity in support of the mission of the Church throughout this unprecedented time. As we prepare for the reinstatement of the obligation to attend Mass, we are excited once again to gather together in person without restrictions in our parish churches, most fittingly on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ."
Though DeWine never ordered religious houses of worship to close, Ohio's dioceses made the decision in mid-March of last year to indefinitely excuse the state's Catholics from attending Mass due to coronavirus concerns. The very next week, they went a step further, canceling all public in-person services until May 25. That relegated local Catholics to watching only streamed Masses inside their homes for more than two months, including during Holy Week.
While public Masses haven't been shut down since, parishioners still have not been required to attend for a year-plus (without a valid excuse, missing Sunday Mass is normally considered a sin in the Catholic Church). There have also still been several restrictions in place, including requirements for Mass-goers to wear face masks, social distancing guidelines that led to blocking off entire rows of pews, and the prohibition of distributing wine during Holy Communion unless it is requested by individuals. Several large faith-based events were also scrapped, including Holy Rosary Church's Feast of the Assumption street festival in Little Italy.
It appears local parishes will now be doing away with most of those limitations, although it is possible some could still keep certain measures in place on their own. Additionally, the bishops emphasize that those with "serious" reasons are still exempt from coming to Mass, such as "those who are ill, have significant health risk factors or care for someone who is immuno-compromised or ill, as well as those who have significant fear or anxiety of contracting the coronavirus in a large group of persons." These people are still "encouraged to spend time in prayer on Sunday, meditating on the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection."
"The Eucharist is the greatest gift Christ left to the Church — the gift of Himself," the bishops wrote. "There is no substitute for Mass celebrated in person."