Throughout the pandemic, pastors and people in the Diocese of Sacramento have worked diligently to provide safe, respectful and reverent occasions for worship, both indoors and outdoors. In union with my brother bishops in California, I am committed to provide the opportunity for offering the Sacred Mysteries in a responsible manner.
Since last March of 2020 – before many jurisdictions offered any guidelines for indoor activities – the dioceses of California upheld the need to protect life and public health by voluntarily suspending indoor worship services. As the pandemic dragged on through surges and plateaus, dioceses continued to stress the common good by holding outdoor worship services. Only when safe were some services moved indoors, always with responsible health precautions foremost.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States recognized the ability for churches and other houses of worship to gather while responding to the public health concerns with reasonable and responsible measures for conducting indoor public worship. The recognition of a balance between the necessary precautions and the essential place of worship during the pandemic is welcomed.
Pandemic-weary Californians are now welcoming many positive developments in the struggle against COVID-19. Cases appear to be stabilizing in the Golden State. Vaccinations are becoming more readily available for all residents. Continued diligence by everyone in abiding by commonsense precautions has yielded positive and hopeful results.
Vaccine availability is still not consistent, especially in some of the most vulnerable populations. Questions persist about whether testing is sufficient and new surges may be forming in some communities.
At this time, I am asking the pastors to follow the tiered county risk levels and the practice of prudent public health measures: wearing face masks, washing hands frequently, and maintaining physical distancing. Use of overflow spaces such as the parish hall or outdoors will help more parishioners participate in the sacrifice of the Mass in person. The introduction of transmitting the Mass using social media and other internet resources has become a valuable outreach to the homebound and others. This should continue.
My brother bishops in California and I also renew the call for eligible Californians to get vaccinated. As we said in our January statement: “Beyond simply protecting their own health and safety, Catholics also have an obligation to protect their family, friends and community by vaccinating as soon as feasible in accordance with public health guidelines and protocols in their area. One should always consult with their doctor regarding any personal medical concerns.”
There is a longing for all the community to gather as one body for the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass safely and with peace of mind. While the dispensation from attending Sunday Mass continues for now, I remind all the faithful of the moral obligation in the third commandment, to keep Holy the Lord’s Day. All Catholics physically able to attend Mass are encouraged to do so. Anyone with a vulnerable health condition, caring for someone with a vulnerable heath condition or demonstrating any flu-like symptoms should stay home. All the faithful should observe Sunday as a day holy to the Lord with traditional practices of prayer, fellowship with family and friends, and works of charity.
My brother priests and I are committed to doing what is prudent to stop the spread of the coronavirus while reviving the vitality of parish life, giving praise to God, teaching the faith to our children, and caring for the poor.
May the intercessions of both our Blessed Mother Mary and St. Joseph join with our prayers for God’s mercy to end the pandemic, bring healing to the afflicted, protection to those who care for them, eternal rest to all those who have died, and consolation to those who mourn the death of loved ones.
Bishop of Sacramento