For the first time in U.S. history, less than 50% of citizens attend church or other religious houses weekly. In 1975 (the year I was born), 71% of Americans attended church. This trend was happening long before COVID, but certainly, COVID has made it much worse. It was understandable why people were nervous about attending Mass early on when the churches opened up again without the obligation to go to Sunday Mass. The number of people catching COVID was growing, and we had little knowledge on how the virus spread, and there was great concern about any gatherings of people outside the same household, especially since we did not have a vaccine at the time. But now, anyone who wants to be vaccinated can be, and we know that the chances of catching the virus from touching surfaces are minimal. At least in our area, there have been no major outbreaks stemming from church attendance or schools. Children are returning to school, and people are going to stores and restaurants. As people get the vaccine, many are visiting family and friends. All this is to say I strongly encourage you to return to church. Return to the supreme act we are called to do as Christians, the worship of God on Sunday at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
At St. Peter Claver and St. Cecilia, you can still attend Mass in the parking lot and come in for communion. Both parishes are cleaned between all Masses, and hand sanitizers are available at every entrance. Social distancing is maintained, and masks are worn. There are those in the High-Risk category who have not been able to get the vaccine yet either for medical reasons, age, or other issues, which is understandable. They may need to stay home for themselves or to keep a loved one safe. For this reason, the church has not reimposed the obligation to go to Mass. It is left up to each family and individual to discern if and when they can return to church.
I am especially concerned about how many young adults and younger families are not attending in the numbers they did before. Many have not been to Mass in over a year. I fear that they will continue to stay away even though schools are opening, people are going shopping and visiting friends and family, and playing on sports teams. The message children and teens will get is the worship of God is not essential and not worth the risk. I fear this could endanger future generations far more than the pandemic, for it will then endanger their souls.
I am saying all of this to encourage everyone to invite those who can to return to the full practice of the faith. Whether you worship inside or outside the church. I encourage younger families to ask themselves if sending their kids to school for seven or more hours a day or those who play sports and go shopping is safer than attending Mass for one hour inside or outside of church once a week. Every Sunday is a chance to worship the Lord and receive Him who is the true protector and healer of souls.
Please pray that more of our fellow parishioners who can safely come back to church will choose to do so. Also, pray for those who cannot attend because of pre-existing conditions or other dangers. The obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains lifted, but the desire should remain strong for us all.
May God Bless you all and guide you in your discernment of these most important things I have touched upon in this Pastor’s Keyboard.
Your brother and father in Christ,
Fr. Scott Woods