Citing the continuing decline in the rate of new COVID-19 infections and the increased availability of coronavirus vaccines, the Archdiocese of Washington and neighboring Catholic dioceses announced that as of the weekend of June 26 and 27, 2021, they are lifting the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass.

The announcement lifting the dispensation was issued June 2 and jointly signed by the archbishops and bishops of the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and the Dioceses of Arlington, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia; and Wilmington, Delaware.

“We are lifting the dispensation of the Sunday and Holy Days Mass obligation … and reinstating that obligation beginning on Saturday, June 26, 2021 and Sunday, June 27, 2021,” the bishops said in their statement. “We welcome and encourage the faithful to return to full in-person participation of the Sunday Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic faith.”

The statement was signed by Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, Arlington Bishop Michael Burbidge, Richmond Bishop Barry Knestout, Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Mark Brennan, and retired Wilmington Bishop William Francis Malooly, who is serving as apostolic administrator of that diocese.

The bishops, in their statement, pointed out that “this obligation (to attend Mass) does not apply to those who are ill; those who have reason to believe that they were recently exposed to the coronavirus, (or) another serious or contagious illness; those who are confined to their home, a hospital, or nursing facility; or those with serious underlying health conditions.” They also suggested “one should consult his or her local pastor if questions arise about the obligation to attend Mass.”

The bishops also said “safety protocols and other liturgical directives in each diocese remain in effect until modified or revoked by the respective diocesan bishop.”

In the Archdiocese of Washington, safety protocols and other liturgical directives were updated May 28, and include the following:

• There are no longer any attendance capacity limits on the number of people who may attend Mass at churches in the archdiocese.

• Masks are no longer required for Massgoers, but highly recommended for unvaccinated persons inside churches.

• The use of masks by vaccinated and non-vaccinated ordinary and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion while distributing Holy Communion is still required during the distribution.

• Social distancing is still required between individuals from separate households, although the social distancing space can be reduced from six feet to three feet.

• Baptismal fonts and holy water stoups may be used, but hand sanitizer must be available in close proximity to permit the cleansing of hands.

• Hard copy bulletins and other printed liturgical materials may be used.

• Entrance and recessional processions are allowed.

• The offertory procession of the gifts is permitted.

• The Sign of Peace is restored while avoiding handshaking.

• A cantor and up to a four-person ensemble may provide music at Mass provided they follow social distancing guidelines.

• Distribution of the Precious Blood remains suspended until further notice, meaning Holy Communion will only be distributed under one species.

The lifting of the dispensation in the Archdiocese of Washington comes 15 months after it was first granted. In March 2020, then-Archbishop Gregory announced that in an effort to slow down the spread of the coronavirus, no public Masses would be celebrated until further notice, and at the same time issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass.

In making that announcement, then-Archbishop Gregory said, “My number one priority as your archbishop is to ensure the safety and health of all who attend our Masses... We are profoundly saddened that we are not able to celebrate our sacraments as a community for the time being, but we know Christ remains with us at all times – specifically in times of worry like this.” 

Following the easing of local jurisdictions’ restrictions on public gatherings during the pandemic, public Masses resumed in Southern Maryland in late May 2020 and then in the District of Columbia and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties that following month, but the dispensation from attending Masses was not lifted. Churches in those jurisdictions followed local government guidelines on the sizes of public gatherings and followed strict safety protocols required by the archdiocese, including mandatory mask wearing and social distancing.

In their June 2, 2021 statement about the lifting of the general dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass, the bishops said they “give thanks to Almighty God for the progress our country has made in curbing the coronavirus pandemic.”

In Maryland, the average number of new cases of coronavirus dropped from 3,230 each day of the first week of January to 199 each day of the last week of May. Nearly 48 percent of all Maryland residents have been fully vaccinated.

In the District of Columbia, the average number of new cases of coronavirus dropped from 322 each day of the first week of January to 21 each day of the last week of May. Slightly more than 47 percent of all District residents have been fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that nationwide 62 percent of all adults have had at least one vaccination.

“At this time, many places in our region are enjoying a return to some sense of normalcy,” the bishops said in their statement. “Let us continue to be united in prayer for one another and for an end to the global pandemic.”

People attend the Easter Sunday Mass on April 4, 2021 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)

The complete text of the June 2 statement is as follows:

Statement of the Bishops of the

Province of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington

Lifting the General Dispensation from the Obligation to Attend Mass

We, the Catholic Bishops of the Province of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington, give thanks to Almighty God for the progress our country has made in curbing the coronavirus pandemic.  The average number of new cases of COVID-19 continues to decline due to the observance of safety protocols and the increase of the availability of the vaccine.  At this time, many places in our region are enjoying a return to some sense of normalcy.   

Therefore, we are lifting the dispensation of the Sunday and Holy Days Mass obligation in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Dioceses of Arlington, Richmond, Wheeling-Charleston, and Wilmington and reinstating that obligation beginning on Saturday, June 26, 2021 and Sunday, June 27, 2021. We welcome and encourage the Faithful to return to full in-person participation of the Sunday Eucharist, the source and summit of our Catholic faith (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 1246-1247 and Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2180).

This obligation does not apply to those who are ill; those who have reason to believe that they were recently exposed to the coronavirus, another serious or contagious illness; those who are confined to their home, a hospital, or nursing facility; or those with serious underlying health conditions. One should consult his or her local pastor if questions arise about the obligation to attend Mass (Canon 1245 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2181).

Safety protocols and other liturgical directives in each diocese remain in effect until modified or revoked by the respective Diocesan Bishop.

Let us continue to be united in prayer for one another and for an end to the global pandemic.

Given on June 2, 2021

Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory

Archbishop, Archdiocese of Washington


Most Reverend William E. Lori

Archbishop, Archdiocese of Baltimore

 

Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge

Bishop, Diocese of Arlington 

 

Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout

Bishop, Diocese of Richmond 

 

Most Reverend Mark E. Brennan

Bishop, Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston 

 

Most Reverend William Francis Malooly

Apostolic Administrator, Diocese of Wilmington