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November 2021

Dear Friends,

You may be aware that Archbishop Etienne is lifting the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days as of December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The archbishop had granted a general dispensation for obvious reasons back at the beginning of the outbreak of the pandemic. Now, with the advent of the vaccines and the assurance from public health officials that it is safe for people to gather indoors as long as they wear masks and use common sense, the archbishop’s lifting of the dispensation was both timely and expected.

Having said that, I can’t help but wonder how much obligation has to do with people attending Mass. Is it a prime motivator?  I am hoping not. My sense is that most of us look upon Sunday Mass as something we want to do and wouldn’t consider not doing except in extraordinary circumstances. And what has been more extraordinary than the pandemic! During the early days of the outbreak, many of you shared with me about the sense of loss you experienced not being able to gather in the Cathedral for Mass - and the genuine hunger and longing you felt for the Eucharist. I don’t believe that obligation can prompt such feelings!

Of course, at this point, we have been able to be in the Cathedral for Mass for about a year-and-a-half, and many of you have availed yourselves of the opportunity. We began with relatively small numbers outside in the Archbishop Murphy Courtyard (often with wind or rain, and sometimes both!). Then, before long, we were able to come into the Cathedral for Mass. Of course, in order to maintain safe social distancing, there were rather severe limitations on the number of people we could accommodate, and this meant having to register ahead of time for Mass. It was cumbersome, for sure – and off-putting for many - but a necessary evil.

Eventually, the need for registration was eliminated and people could simply show up – as long as they were wearing a mask. And increasing numbers did show up. And those who did loved being able to experience once again what it means to be a community of faith gathered around the table of the Word and the Eucharist. There were fits and starts, of course – as Covid cases rose and fell in the county and the state. Sometimes we could do congregational singing; other times we couldn’t. There was some frustration and disappointment with all this, but at least we got to celebrate the Eucharist together.

Looking over those many months, I can only be grateful to God for keeping our community together, and I can only be grateful to all of you for the different ways you participated: some of you by being present in the Cathedral; others of you by joining the community via livestream; and all of you, I’m sure, praying for the day when things would return to normal.
Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that we’ve arrived at normal. In fact, I’m not so sure any longer what ‘normal’ is!  And since the pandemic is still with us, precautions still need to be taken, protocols need to be followed. But, my friends, we are at a new moment, and even if the Archbishop hadn’t decided to lift the dispensation, I’m thinking – hoping! - that those of you who have yet to return to the Cathedral are giving serious thought to doing so.

I’m not speaking, of course, of those of you who have health conditions that keep you from being in crowds, or those of you who, for medical reasons, have not been able to get vaccinated. You have every good reason to continue doing exactly what you have been doing for the past twenty months; namely, joining with the community each Sunday and Holy Day via the miracle of livestream. As I mentioned in a letter I wrote well over a year ago, those of you who remain at home for these reasons are fulfilling the greatest obligation of all: the obligation to love your neighbor as yourself!

But what about the rest of us who have been vaccinated – some even with the booster shot – and who enjoy good health? You are the ones I am eager to welcome back to the Cathedral for Sunday Mass. Not because you are obliged to do so but because you get to do so and, from the perspective of faith, you need to do so. And, speaking for the community that gathers in the Cathedral each weekend, I would add that we need you! Our worship is lacking something essential when you are not there, and you are depriving yourself of the nourishment that can only come from the sacramental encounter with Christ in the Eucharist.  As good as the livestream experience has been for so many (and I can’t count the number of people who have told me it has saved their sanity!); and as comfortable as it has been to be able to participate in Sunday Mass from the comfort of home; and as easy it is to hear, to concentrate and perhaps even to feel quite involved in the Mass without the usual distractions and occasional disturbances that are part of life in the Cathedral (and, let’s be honest, as nice as it has been not having to drive downtown for Mass!)—still, the livestream Mass is no substitute for what I can only call the real thing!

My friends, I hope you will see this as an invitation, an invitation to rejoin the community in person, an invitation to experience once again the joy that comes from being together in our beautiful cathedral and celebrating and receiving the Eucharist.

Let me return to where I started—to that business of obligation. As you’ve probably picked up, I prefer not to speak about that when it comes to something as important and life-giving as Sunday Mass. I’d prefer we simply settle for wanting to be here and I’m hoping you agree. So, for all of you who are able, I look forward to seeing you soon; and for those who cannot and should not, I continue to hold you in my heart and in my prayers each day, looking forward, as I know you do, to the day when Covid-19 is but a painful and distant memory. What a blessed and happy day that will be!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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804 Ninth Avenue
Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303