Archbishop Alexander Sample today told western Oregon Catholics that “it’s time to come back to the Eucharist with joy.”

Announcing that the obligation to attend Sunday and holy day Masses in western Oregon will return July 16, Archbishop Sample said, however, he finds it odd to think of Mass as an obligation.

“It’s about the love of our God which he has poured out for us in his most beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which is manifested in the Holy Eucharist,” the archbishop wrote in a pastoral statement accompanying the decree. “If Jesus had invited me to be at the Last Supper, would I have told him I had something else on my calendar that day? If he had invited me to stand by his mother, Holy Mary, at the foot of the cross, would I have said I had to be somewhere else that day? If he had invited me to be at his tomb when the stone was rolled away as he rose from the dead, would I have said I was too busy? Of course not! Yet that is precisely what we celebrate and make present in every Mass.”

It was in March 2020, the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oregon, that the archbishop suspended public Masses but reminded the faithful to keep the Sabbath holy. In April 2020, he granted the general dispensation, meaning all Catholics could miss Mass without incurring sin.

Public Masses with small congregations and many safety protocols resumed in May 2020 and the number of people allowed has increased steadily as state health regulations changed. There were no reported COVID-19 outbreaks at western Oregon Catholic parishes.

As of today, Gov. Kate Brown has lifted all public health restrictions related to the pandemic.

“With the new status of the COVID pandemic, resulting in far fewer infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, and with so many having chosen to receive a vaccination against COVID, the time has come for the most significant change in a long time regarding our divine worship,” Archbishop Sample wrote.

“Jesus waits for you with his love beyond all measure,” he told the faithful.

The usual factors that excuse a Catholic from attending Mass on days of obligation remain in place for those who are sick, their caretakers, and anyone with serious health concerns or grave fear of illness that makes it necessary to avoid large public gatherings. The official decree, signed by Archbishop Sample and Franciscan Sister Veronica Schueler, chancellor of the archdiocese, also noted that the pastor of a parish can dispense the obligation for parishioners for other just causes.

Love for the Eucharist is a pillar of Archbishop Sample’s plan to evangelize western Oregon.

“In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the Blessed Sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, we discover the full manifestation of Christ’s boundless love for us,” the archbishop wrote in his June 30 statement. “It is about the love of God for us.”

Archbishop Sample acknowledged the profound loss and difficulty people felt in the past 15 months, including the death of loved ones and emotional struggles. He said the pandemic strife exacerbated political and ideological tensions in the nation and the church.

He also explained that it was a time of tough judgment calls for bishops, priests and their advisors who had to navigate spiritual and physical needs of the people.

“I am so grateful to all of the pastors, priests, deacons, staff and volunteers at our parishes and missions for their tremendous leadership and hard work during this difficult time,” he wrote. “I could not be prouder of the job they all did, also trying to navigate a complex reality for the good of their local communities.”

He offered special thanks to the faithful of the archdiocese for their patience, understanding and cooperation.

“With only rare exceptions, you maintained a spirit of unity and cohesiveness, even when at times you may have disagreed with the decisions being made,” he wrote. “Your witness to unity and solidarity was inspiring, truly showing what it means to be the mystical Body of Christ.”