Sunday Mass Obligation Explained 

Dear friends in Christ,

Last Friday February 12, Bishop Walkowiak announced that the suspension of the Sunday Mass obligation will be lifted beginning Thursday, February 18.  Therefore, this coming weekend, February 20-21, the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday Mass obligation will again apply as it did before the pandemic.  We are still required to maintain social distancing, mask wearing, and so on, as before.  In order to accommodate the increased attendance, for the time being we are adding an 11:30 Sunday Mass.  We have set up radio transmission if we reach our capacity, in which case people can tune into the Mass from their car radio and come to the door to the church to receive communion.

What is the Sunday Mass obligation all about?  The Third Commandment is to keep holy the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).  This includes setting this day (for Christians the Sabbath of course is Sunday) aside as a day of worship and of rest.  Part of what it means to be a faithful Catholic includes coming to Mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening for the Sunday Vigil Mass).  This has been referred to as an obligation that all Catholics must fulfill.  Intentionally failing to attend Sunday Mass without good reason (such as illness, caring for a sick family member, blizzards, etc.) is therefore a serious sin which should be confessed. However, in recent decades, the practice of coming to Mass every Sunday has sadly become less common across all Christian denominations, and for Catholics as well.  More and more, Sunday has become a day much like any other, filled with all kinds of activities.

Why is it important for Catholics to attend Mass every Sunday?  Briefly, the Mass is the highest and greatest prayer of the Church.  God has given us the Mass as the form of worship He most desires us to make to Him.  In it, we come together as a community of faith – not isolated individuals – to worship the Lord, to hear His word, and to receive the Body and Blood of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist.  Our worship of the Lord sustains and nourishes us on our journey through this life.  Through the Mass, the Lord shares His grace, or His very life, with us.  It is a great gift and a great privilege for us; Catholics throughout the ages have died for the sake of the Mass.  We should regard it as the gift that it is, not as a burden, and make Sunday Mass the top priority in our week.  Going purely out of a sense of obligation is not at all a bad thing, but even better would be to go because it is an opportunity to worship the Lord as He most desires, and to receive His love.

The bishop as a successor to the apostles has been given the authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19).  This means, for example, that bishops can for good reason temporarily suspend our obligation to attend Sunday Mass.  (Priests however do not have the authority to do this.) Our bishop suspended the Sunday Mass obligation last March in response to the pandemic, meaning that all Catholics could choose to not attend Mass on Sunday due to the pandemic.  However, in line with many other dioceses in the country, Bishop Walkowiak has now seen fit to reinstate it.  This means that all Catholics should make a good faith effort to return to Sunday Mass.

There remain, however, some exceptions, which really are not that different from those that normally apply, i.e. health and other significant reasons – things that are essentially out of one’s control.  If for example, you find yourself on a Sunday far from a Catholic Church and without a car, you would not be guilty of a sin for missing Mass.  On the other hand, if you were particularly tired on a Sunday and decided you just didn’t feel like going, then – better get to confession!

Hopefully this helps in understanding what the Sunday Mass obligation is all about.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Bill

Lenten Resources

Dear friends in Christ,

The season of Lent is already upon us; tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  We will have five Ash Wednesday liturgies:

  • 8:00 am
  • 12:00 noon
  • 5:30 pm
  • 7:00 pm
  • 9:00 pm

Please note: only the 9:00 pm is a Mass; the others are a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of ashes.

Ash Wednesday, along with Good Friday, is a day of fasting and abstinence.  Here is how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have defined fasting: eating no more than one full meal and two smaller meals which together do not equal a full meal.  Fasting is for all Catholics ages 14 through 59; it is voluntary for those older or younger.

Abstinence applies also to all Fridays in Lent (and technically to all Fridays throughout Ordinary Time and Advent as well).  This means refraining from eating meat.  This is for anyone age 14 and up.  If you already do not eat meat, then I would suggest abstaining from something else that you normally enjoy.

In addition, Lent is a penitential season in which we should be more intentional than usual about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  It is the perfect time to renew one’s daily prayer, perhaps to add a special prayer, do a little extra reading of Scripture or a good religious book.  Fasting is usually understood as “giving something up” – something that would be a genuine sacrifice.  And almsgiving of course means sharing one’s resources with the Church, the poor, and those in need.

The purpose of all of this – abstinence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc. – is not for the sake of taking the fun out of life, but rather so that we might prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday (also in preparation for our own death and resurrection).  So whatever you choose to do this Lent, do it first and foremost out of love for Our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our salvation.  When you feel a pang of hunger on one of the days of fasting, offer it up to Our Lord out of love for him and for anyone who might be hungry without choosing it.

Here are some good Lenten resources you might consider in order to grow closer to the Lord this Lent:

Please also note that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available at these times:

  • Tues-Fri 5:00-5:30 pm
  • Tues 6:00-8:00 pm
  • Sat 9:00-9:30 am

And we have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharistic Adoration) from 6:00-9:00 pm on Tuesdays, and Stations of the Cross at 6:00 pm on Fridays during Lent.

May you have a blessed and peaceful Lent

In Christ,
Fr. Bill

Discernment Opportunities

Are you discerning the priesthood?

‘Exploring the Priesthood’ is a discernment opportunity sponsored by the diocesan Office of Priestly Vocations. Time for prayer and reflection will be held monthly for young men (ages 16 – 35) to discern God’s will for their lives.  This year’s discernment opportunities will be offered on the following Sundays at noon: Feb. 21, March 21, April 18, and May 16.  If you are interested in joining these events, please email Pattie Reynolds in the Office of Priestly Vocations at preynolds@grdiocese.org.

Project Rachel

Project Rachel Training Day in February

Social workers, counselors, parish nurses, crisis pregnancy center staff, pastoral staff, and spiritual directors are invited to attend a statewide Project Rachel Training Day being offered virtually on Feb. 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 Project Rachel offers opportunities for post-abortion healing and reconciliation for women and men. The event will feature presentations addressing healing after abortion, including trauma, shame, post-abortion stress, grief, and how faith plays a role in healing. For additional details ad to register, visit: http://bit.ly/ProjectRachelTrainingRegistrationFeb2021 or email mwalsh@ccwestmi.org. Registration deadline is February 11th.

Finding healing after abortion

The next Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat for healing after abortion will be held virtually on the weekend of March 12-14. The retreats are designed to help you with forgiveness, allow you to experience the mercy of God, and grieve the loss of your unborn child or children. Retreats are open to women, men and couples. For more information or to register contact Maggie Walsh at (616) 340-1824 or mwalsh@ccwestmi.org. All inquiries are confidential. Financial aid is available.

Christopher Epplett

Chris Epplett will be interning at St. Luke from January 29 – May 9, 2021.
Currently he is a seminarian at Mundelein Seminary in Mudelein, IL.
He is a graduate from Aquinas College and a graduate from Grand Haven High School.

Why did you want to become a priest? God has a plan for my life and, overtime, he has shown me the vocation of priesthood. I want to follow God’s will and let that work out through priestly ministry in my life.

What do you love the most about seminary? The opportunity to pray, reflect, and prepare. I see the seminary as sort of sabbatical. I was pulled away from 11 years of parish ministry to enter seminary and God is using this time to give me rest while preparing me in a new way to go back into parish life.

What are you most grateful for? God’s providence and never-ending, unfailing faithfulness.

Mass Guidelines

Dear friends in Christ,

This has been a challenging year on many levels.  We have had to adapt and to keep adapting to ever-changing guidelines in response to Covid.  I am grateful to all those of you who have been patient and understanding as we have tried to navigate these uncertain waters.

Having public Masses suspended for three months was very difficult to say the least.  After they resumed, however, we were blessed to be able to celebrate Masses outside through the summer and into the fall.  Doing so enabled us to be able to avoid many of the things that most other parishes had to implement in June, like strict limits on attendance at Mass, sign-ups for Masses, and yes, having to wear masks.

Since we had to move indoors a couple months ago, however, we ourselves have also had to implement many of these things.  Since then the number of complaints, comments, etc about how we are celebrating Mass and what we are or are not doing to prevent the spread of Covid have increased.  Having spoken to numerous other priests, I know that we are not alone in this.  There is considerable anxiety out there.  And every parish including ours has members with completely opposite viewpoints on what we should and shouldn’t be doing as a parish in response to Covid.

Unfortunately our ushers and sacristans have borne the brunt of some angry remarks and have been treated poorly by a few people, both those who think we are not doing enough to prevent the spread of Covid and others who think that anything we ask is an unjust imposition on their freedom.  Much of it has centered around the wearing of masks.  Some people are very nervous when they see anyone at Mass without a mask.  Others are upset that they are even offered a mask if they aren’t wearing one.  Trying to balance these very different viewpoints has not been easy.  In an attempt to find this balance, last weekend we began to ask anyone without a mask to sit in one section on the side of the church.  Some had no problem doing this, but others got upset.

Therefore I want to clarify that the guidelines we are following right now come from our bishop.  They do not come from me or a government official, nor are they made up by our ushers or sacristans.  As we have stated since we resumed indoor Masses, these diocesan guidelines ask that we wear masks at indoor Masses.  However, at the same time they call for us to be pastorally sensitive to anyone who cannot medically tolerate a mask, small children who won’t wear them, etc.  The guidelines also state that we have anyone without a mask sit in one section of the church.  Again, this is an attempt to accommodate people with very different opinions.  Of course like everything else it is not perfect.  So I simply have to appeal to everyone’s better nature and ask you to please exercise patience and understanding.  This is what the vast majority of our parishioners have done, and I am very grateful for this.

Whether masks and the other things we have been doing make much difference in preventing the spread of Covid, I do not know.  I have been given very different opinions on this from medical professionals as well.  But regardless of whether we think they are effective or not, or whether we like them or not, this is what our bishop is asking us to do right now in order to be able to continue to have public Masses.  The majority of people I have spoken with about masks have said they wear them not for themselves but for the sake of others.  As such, doing this can be an act of charity towards others, a small sacrifice we can offer to the Lord.

At the same time, however, it is impossible to create a completely risk-free environment in which infectious diseases cannot spread.  Wearing masks and so on can only minimize the risk.  For this reason the bishop has once again extended the suspension of the Sunday Mass obligation through February 17, Ash Wednesday, for those who are most vulnerable to Covid and for anyone who does not feel comfortable attending Mass right now because of the pandemic.  If you do choose to come to Mass, please be kind and respectful towards our ushers and all those who help out here at St. Luke’s.  They are volunteers who have been giving of their time to the parish week after week, most of them for years.

When we come to Mass, let’s remember the great mystery that we are entering into: how God is literally coming to us to provide us spiritual nourishment for our journey through this life.  The Mass is the highest prayer of the Church and a time for us to gather to worship the Lord together.  We are so blessed in spite of everything this year has brought.

In Christ,
Fr. Bill

Franciscan Life Process Center

For up-to-date happenings,
please check out our website and Facebook site.

Franciscan Life Process Center
11650 Downes St. NE Lowell, MI 49331
654 Davis Ave. NW Grand Rapids, MI 49504
www.lifeprocesscenter.org      www.facebook.com/FranciscanCenter

Since our founding by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in 1974, the Franciscan Life Process Center has assisted in the education, healthy development and cultural enrichment of individuals and communities of people throughout the greater Grand Rapids area and Kent County.

Our Mission: 
To promote a relationship with God that brings dignity
and hope to the sacred process of all life
through programs that assist, educate, enrich and inform.