By Colleen Rowan WEST VIRGINIA—In a video message posted on the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston’s social media June 21, Bishop Mark E. Brennan encouraged the faithful to return to in-person Mass. He told them they are missed and they are part of the Body of Christ. “Come join us for Mass,” the bishop says in his message. “Encourage your family members and friends to do so as well.” The bishop’s message was made in anticipation of this weekend, June 26-27, as the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday and holy day Masses is lifted. Bishop Brennan announced that he was lifting the dispensation in a June 2 letter to the faithful and in a joint letter with fellow bishops of the Baltimore Province released the same day. As pastors and parishes welcome the faithful back this weekend, Bishop Brennan said that he is looking forward to celebrating Masses on Sunday at St. Peter the Fisherman Parish in Fairmont and welcoming back those who will be returning there. “It was a hard decision to close our churches to public Masses for two months last year,” Bishop Brennan wrote in his June 2 letter. “It was done for everyone’s protection until we could figure out how to celebrate Mass safely. I lifted the obligation to go to Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation so that Catholics of tender conscience would not think they were sinning by not going to Mass.” The bishop said in his letter that he is lifting the dispensation because the pandemic is seeming to subside, but emphasized that it is not over. Because of this the diocese announced in updated directives for public worship, which went into effect this past weekend, that the distribution of the Sacred Cup to the laity remains suppressed until further notice, the sign of peace is allowed but only in a non-tactical greeting, and the use of hand sanitizer is still encouraged upon entering and exiting the church. With the diocese’s theme United in Faith, Together in Person, churches will welcome back parish- ioners who have not yet been back to Mass in person since the pandemic began in March 2020. Many of them still have safety concerns and are wearing masks and continuing to practice social distancing. Bishop Brennan has said that those who choose to continue these safety measures should feel comfortable to do so in their parishes. In responce to safety concerns, many parishes have designated a certain number of pews within the churches for those who wish to continue practicing 6-foot social distancing. Earlier this week, Sacred Heart Parish in Princeton announced the following to its members: “For those who prefer being cautious, the last four pews on the left are reserved for you. All sitting in these pews must maintain the 6-foot social distance and wear a mask.” Very Rev. Donald X. Higgs, Assoc. V.F., rector of the Basilica of the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston, announced that the gathering space and the two rows of pews on the left side of the church will be maintained as every-other pew to accommodate those who still wish to maintain social distance. Writing to parishioners in the parish bulletin, Father Higgs said: “I look forward to seeing more people attend Mass, while knowing that there are people still unable to attend because of understandable reasons. For those who can, I do encourage you to return and for you to invite your family and friends to return.” The precept to take part in Sunday or holy day Mass is serious, Bishop Brennan wrote in his June 2 letter. Healthy persons with the ability to go to Mass should do so, he wrote, but recognized that there are situations that could impede one going to Mass, such as taking care of a sick person or fear of bringing home an infection from Mass; traveling a long distance on Sunday (perhaps 100 miles) or being required to work on Sunday with no local Mass fitting into their schedule, to name a few. “In these and similar situations,” the bishop wrote, “you are excused from taking part in Mass. But sitting at home watching a livestreamed or televised Mass, when you are healthy and could easily go to Mass, is not sufficient to fulfill the Sunday Mass obligation. Those who ignore or scoff at this obligation are certainly not respecting God nor honoring the Lord Jesus. “Going to Mass in-person is simply better,” Bishop Brennan wrote. “We should be with our fellow Catholics to hear the Word of God proclaimed. We can only receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist by being at Mass. The Lord himself said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them’ [Matthew 18:20]. We are not isolated individuals, but members of a people and that becomes more real to us when we are together. “I urge, then, all our Catholics who do not have genuine excuses for not going to Mass to join us once again in our parishes for Sunday and holy day Masses. Do it to honor the God who made you and the Redeemer who suffered and died for you. Do it for your own benefit and for that of your fellow parishioners. We have missed you and very much wish to see you with us again. Refresh our hearts and your own by coming back to Mass.” View Bishop Brennan’s full June 21 video message on the diocese’s Facebook and Twitter pages. To read Bishop Brennan’s letter of June 2, his joint letter with bishops of the Baltimore Province, or updated diocesan directives in full, visit the diocese’s website at