Father Michael Gadache, associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha, offers the holy sacrifice of the Mass last fall. Since then, parishes have seen more people returning to Sunday Mass. On Pentecost, Archbishop George J. Lucas’ dispensation from the obligation of attending Mass on Sundays and holy days will be lifted. Catholics in the archdiocese will once again be required to participate at Mass on those days, with some exceptions. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Dispensation from obligation to attend Sunday Mass to be lifted

About 55 Sundays ago, Archbishop George J. Lucas granted Catholics a dispensation from their obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.

Now, more than a year later, he has announced the end of the dispensation, effective the weekend of Pentecost, May 22-23.

Priests will share the news at Easter weekend Masses.

The decision comes as COVID-19 vaccines have become increasingly available and parishes across the archdiocese have been welcoming parishioners back in increasing numbers.

Various safety measures will still be in place, at the discretion of parishes and following state and local health guidelines.

Those who can’t attend Mass because of age, sickness, disability or other reasons would still be excused, as always. And for now, those who feel they are at heightened risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 also are excused.

Those who can’t go to Mass have been urged to make Sundays holy and to pray, read the Scriptures, view televised or livestreamed Masses and participate in acts of charity.

Bishops across the United States have been gradually lifting dispensations from the Mass obligation, some as early as last August.

Archbishop Lucas consulted with the Archdiocesan Priests Council, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island in making his decision.

The Easter season will be an occasion to reach out to people with the good news, the archbishop said.

“The coming weeks provide an opportunity for us to respond again to the invitation of Jesus to come to Him,” Archbishop Lucas wrote in a letter to Catholics in the archdiocese. “This is also an opportunity for each of us to share the invitation of Jesus with family members and neighbors.”

Archdiocese of Omaha parishes have been welcoming parishioners back to Mass and other liturgies since resuming public Masses, beginning for many on May 4, 2020.

Since the initial shutdown of public Masses, parishes have been ministering to parishioners at home by bringing them Communion, streaming Mass through television or on the internet and even delivering letters, packets and gifts.

Efforts to welcome them back to Mass have increased recently with more people returning as they gain access to vaccines.

SAFE RETURN

Jim and Nancy Mulhall of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha worshipped from home for 54 weeks before deciding to show up for Sunday Mass on Palm Sunday weekend.

At age 74, Jim had concerns about the spread of the coronavirus when he was in an enclosed environment “with a bunch of people that I really had no control over.”

But the couple decided to return after being vaccinated about six weeks ago.

“We thought this was a good time to get back,” Mulhall said. “We missed the community.”

The Mulhalls had both been active in their parish. Jim ushered, and Nancy has served as a sacristan. Both have helped count collections and helped distribute the Eucharist as extraordinary ministers of holy Communion.

PERSONAL INVITATIONS

St. Cecilia Parish and others throughout the archdiocese have been preparing for weeks and months to welcome people like the Mulhalls back to church.

For Father Michael Grewe, pastor of St. Cecilia, inviting people back has been a simple process.

He’s asked parishioners already back at Mass to share their experience if they’ve felt safe and spiritually nourished.

“I find that it’s best when it’s a personal invitation to come back,” he said.

Catholics who’ve been away are craving the Eucharist and being able to talk to other parishioners, Father Grewe said.

As people return, every other pew will continue to be blocked off at the cathedral and masks will still be required.

“I think that spacing is going to give a sense of comfort,” Father Grewe said.

WELCOMING TECH

St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna has been using emails, other online forms of messaging and a new neighborhood approach to welcome people back to Mass.

About three dozen neighborhood representatives have posted yard signs with QR codes, which look like barcodes and connect people through their smartphones to an invitational video and information about the parish.

The neighborhood representatives also are encouraged to make personal connections with their neighbors.

“The archbishop and the Holy Father have called us to reach out beyond our church doors,” said Father Jeff Loseke, pastor. He and other pastors hope to bring back parishioners from pre-COVID days and call inactive Catholics back, too.

BIG SMILES

Parishes such as St. Ludger in Creighton, St. Ignatius in Brunswick and St. Paul in Plainview have been seeing church pews fill up in February and March as fewer new cases of COVID-19 developed in the area and more people have been vaccinated, said Father Jeremy Hans, pastor of those parishes.

He said he’s been seeing people he hasn’t seen for a while and noticing “big smiles on their faces.”

“Fear is going away, and there’s a little more comfort about being at church,” Father Hans said.

“There is something about being part of a community in the presence of our Lord,” he said. People are starting to get together with friends at restaurants and shops, “but it’s not the same as being in church with your parish family.”

People miss being in person for the liturgy and worshipping God in person, Father Hans said.

“What better thing is there than to be with God and with our neighbors? This is what gives life meaning,” he said. God wants to give people “an abundance of blessings and his very self.”

“It gives our lives joy, meaning and direction to be with God and with our spiritual family,” he said.