Catholic Mass obligation resumes May 22, Bishop Gregory Parkes says

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Divya Kumar, Tampa Bay Times
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During the annual Chrism Mass — an event where holy oils used for baptisms, confirmations and the sick are blessed — Bishop Gregory Parkes announced Wednesday that soon it will be time for area Catholics to return to church in person.

In light of increased access to vaccinations coming on Monday, Parkes, who heads the Diocese of St. Petersburg, said in his homily that he is much more hopeful this year than last. By May 22, during the vigil of Pentecost, the dispensation to attend Mass will be lifted, he said.

“This is a reason for hope, in the same way that many are returning to shopping, to restaurants, social gatherings and vacations,” he said. “It’s time to come back to Mass. It’s time to come back to church, it’s time to come home.”

When churches first re-opened earlier in the pandemic, Parkes said they saw around 20 percent of parishioners return. Some are now between 50 to 70 percent back, he said.

In place of the general dispensation, Parkes said he would be issuing specific dispensations for certain groups who are still unable or feel uncomfortable returning to Mass based on “age, infirmity, underlying conditions or fear.” He also said additional protocols would be put in place within churches to ensure the experience will be safe.

“This past year we were called not only to courageously live the Gospel, but creatively live the Gospel in the ways we provide ministry,” he said. “While Zoom, Facebook Live and live streaming are things we’ve all become accustomed to, though they’re useful tools, they’re no substitute for gathering together to celebrate the Eucharist and our faith.”

Rev. Ralph D’Elia, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, said there was a “palpable joy” at the Mass after the Bishop’s announcement.

“There’s been a sense the time has come,” he said.

At the Cathedral of St. Jude, modified in-person services resumed last year around the same time. Pews are taped off and masks are strongly encouraged. D’Elia said the coming weeks should have more guidelines from the diocese, but he expects a possible return for hymns and holy water, which have been absent from services so far.

While he said exceptions to attending in-person services should be respected for those who don’t think it’s prudent to return, D’Elia said the ability to worship together on a bigger scale is welcomed.

“As Catholics, we’re very tangible people,” he said. “It’s important for us to be in communion with one and other.”