The Greatest Gift – Part 1

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Bishop Ricken

The greatest gift Jesus left his church was the gift of the Eucharist, the very gift of God himself.

We encounter the Word through hearing it proclaimed, and through doing what Jesus asks us to do during the eucharistic prayer, when the priest repeats the words of Jesus:

“…He took bread and, giving thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.’ In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples, saying: ‘Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.’”

Every Sunday, at your parish, the Eucharist — the greatest gift given to humanity — is celebrated. What a gift!

In the last several months, the pandemic has brought great sufferings of illness and loss of life among our families, and much uncertainty in understanding the full ramifications of the virus. This uncertainty led to a cautionary pause in public celebrations of “in-person” Masses. 

Last summer brought a return to “in-person” Mass once again, with proper precautions installed to help provide a safe environment for all in attendance. The Mass attendance numbers slowly began to increase as the people returned to the pews.

Thankfully, we now find greater health returning to our communities and people are returning to Mass in larger and larger numbers each Sunday for public, in-person celebration of the holy Eucharist.

Since we are experiencing greater health in our communities and our parishes, after much discernment and consultation, I have decided to lift the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, effective on Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady into heaven.

The Sunday Mass obligation fulfills, in part, the basic moral obligation which God has given us in the third commandment — to “Keep holy the Sabbath.” As Catholics, we believe that to miss Mass on any given Sunday without a serious reason is a serious and grave sin. Why? Because it violates one of the Ten Commandments and, second, it can give a clear indication that our relationship with God is not really that important to us.

If we truly love God, if we strive to be missionary disciples, we would want to spend time with him, to worship, praise and adore him. The Mass is an especially powerful way for children and young people to reconnect with their families and God. The Sunday Mass is the most complete way we can do this. 

Reinstating the obligation to participate in the Sunday Mass may sound familiar. We attempted this last summer. Unfortunately, shortly after beginning again the obligation, we experienced a sharp rise in the cases of coronavirus in our region and state.

When the dispensation was lifted, we saw many of our dear seniors return to in-person Mass, many of whom are actually not obliged to attend Mass due to adverse health conditions. God bless them for their fidelity! Their commitment to attending Sunday Mass, and making it their top priority, is a beautiful example for all of us.

Additionally, if individuals are frail due to illness or age and in their well-formed consciences believe that going into public places — including Sunday worship at Mass — would place their health in “serious jeopardy,” they, too, are not bound by this obligation. Anyone in those types of situations should adhere to the third commandment “To Keep Holy the Lord’s Day” by spending time in prayer, reading the Scriptures and taking part in acts of charity from home.

All of us have seen the devastation that this virus has caused. The isolation has been so very difficult for so many people. 

However, we must not let the effects of this virus overcome us. We must resolve to recover and return to Sunday Mass and frequent daily prayer.