Q. Due to COVID-19 and restrictions to prevent its spread, public Masses are currently suspended in my diocese. If I "attend" a livestream Mass on television during this time, have I fulfilled my Sunday obligation? (By not participating at all, I feel as if I am falling away – and it is becoming much too easy to enjoy this "time off.") 

A. No, you have not fulfilled your Sunday obligation by watching Mass on television. But not to worry – in your case, you have no obligation! During the coronavirus pandemic, Many dioceses have simply lifted the responsibility of Catholics to attend Mass. The Archdiocese of Washington says on its website, "The right thing to do is to stay home for your safety and the safety of others."

Whenever circumstances make it impossible or unwise to go to church – illness, caring for a sick child, a non-negotiable work assignment, etc. – your Sunday obligation is simply lifted. But what you should still do is to try to make Sunday special.

The bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, for example, wrote that during the coronavirus, "Those members of the faithful who do not attend Sunday Mass should devote some time to prayer on the Lord’s Day, either alone or as a family."

Many parishes and dioceses have offered suggestions as to how that might be done – watching a televised Mass, looking over the Sunday readings in advance, praying the Our Father and offering prayer intentions aloud as a family.

During a weekday televised Mass from his residence in March, Pope Francis suggested that viewers who find themselves unable to receive the Eucharist during the coronavirus make a "spiritual Communion," and he offered the following text:

"My Jesus, I believe that you are present in the most holy sacrament of the altar. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you."

Q. I have not been to church in a while; and I don’t usually pray, although recently I have begun. Will God accept me still, if I start going to church at this point in my life? I want to get close to him and I hope that it’s not too late.

A. It is never too late. God’s love for us is deep and everlasting. The Second Letter of Peter (3:9) tells us that the Lord "is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

Think of the criminal on the cross who turned to Christ only hours before his death and was promised that, that very day, he would be with Jesus in paradise. And think, too, of St. Augustine, who lived a dissolute life as a young man, fathering a child out of wedlock and who, for years, followed various philosophers only to become disillusioned with their teachings.

When he was in his 30s, Augustine was inspired to pick up a Bible and "chanced" upon these words from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (13:14): "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh." Soon after, he was baptized by St. Ambrose and became one of our greatest saints.

Later, reflecting on his experience, Augustine made this keen observation: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Thank you for your question, and I will pray for you on your journey back to prayer and Catholic practice.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.