Thomas and Antonio Yoon take part in Mass Oct. 3 at Immaculate Conception Church in Stayton. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Thomas and Antonio Yoon take part in Mass Oct. 3 at Immaculate Conception Church in Stayton. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
In his Oct. 2 online Chapel Chat, Archbishop Alexander Sample invited and urged Catholics to return to Mass if they are able.

While some Catholics only have a stronger yearning for liturgy since the pandemic started, the archbishop has heard from western Oregon pastors who say some people may be losing their sense of the importance and centrality of the Eucharist.

Slots at many western Oregon parishes, limited by state COVID-19 rules, are not being filled, Archbishop Sample reported. “I am encouraging you to really ask yourself if it isn’t time to come back,” he told listeners.

The archbishop said he is sensitive to those who should not attend Mass during the COVID-19 pandemic because of a medical condition or age. But he said statistics show that younger, healthier people also are staying home even as parishes have succeeded in making Mass safe through cleaning, distancing and mask requirements.

There have been no coronavirus outbreaks traced to Masses in the archdiocese, Archbishop Sample said.

He clarified that he has indeed given a dispensation from Sunday Eucharist, but no one is obligated to stay home.

Keeping the Sabbath is not just a church law but a divine precept, the archbishop reminded listeners. “It’s the day God made for us,” he said, explaining that in usual times, attending Sunday Mass is a “grave obligation.”

The archbishop cited a new pastoral letter from Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The letter, approved by Pope Francis, confronts a fear of many Catholic pastors — people are getting to like Sunday mornings at home or prefer to watch Mass online.

In the document, titled “Let Us Return to the Eucharist with Joy,” the cardinal appeals to Catholics, saying they cannot live for long without participating in the Eucharist in person.

The cardinal said humans can’t fully realize their happiness without public proclamation of God’s word and can’t live without participating in the sacrifice of the cross that is present in each Mass. He also said Christians can’t go without community.

“We aren’t meant to live our faith as Catholics in isolation from one another,” Archbishop Sample said, carrying on the idea. “We are meant to be a community of believers who gather at the altar of the Lord to hear the word of God and to partake of the Eucharist. This is the way it was from the beginning. Jesus established a church, a community.”

The cardinal said the church building itself cannot be underestimated, since it is a spiritual home full of holy memories.

The archbishop called the letter a beautiful pastoral message, not a new law or a chastisement.

Archbishop Sample also said that some Catholics are angry that he has not defied state law on the limit of people who can gather in a church. While he did communicate with Gov. Kate Brown and win some safe concessions, he said he is obligated to follow civil law unless it compels immoral or unjust behavior.

In Chapel Chats during September, the archbishop kept listeners posted on news about the Oregon fires and developments in efforts for racial justice in the area. He reported that on Sept. 10 he met with leaders of the African American Catholic Community of Oregon, which represents the hundreds of Black Catholics in the state. The archbishop said he learned more about unfair practices in Oregon history that have left a legacy of isolation, poverty and strife.

“It was a beautiful meeting,” the archbishop said. “I heard their hearts and I heard their pain.” He said that he, Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith and two priests would continue to meet with the community’s leaders.

The archbishop also said that racial injustice, violence, pandemic, political division and fires have left people wondering about God’s action in the world. He suggested that perhaps God is working out of the chaos to help humans know that they are not the center of the universe but are dependent on divine guidance.

“Life without God is meaningless and leads to disintegration of society, of relationships and of love and justice,” the archbishop said, adding that the church has what the world needs — God’s love, mercy and truth.