The dispensation of the Sunday Mass obligation brought on by the coronavirus pandemic will end Sept. 14, but many parishes within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have safely and successfully held weekday and Sunday Masses for many weeks and hope more will return.

Of course, those who are sick or at-risk for becoming sick due to age, underlying medical conditions or a compromised immune system are excluded from attending, as well as if someone is caring for a sick person.

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and priests throughout the archdiocese are encouraging parishioners to return to Mass. In an Aug. 25, 2020 letter, Archbishop Listecki said, “Our obligation to attend Sunday worship reflects the very character of who we are as Catholics. When we fail in our responsibility before God, we sin. Therefore, we need to form our consciences so that we can be fully informed in making decisions about our actions. The Church in Her wisdom offers us guidelines to help in our formation.”

When the dispensation expires, Archbishop Listecki said it will be the responsibility of those who are capable and not prohibited by other circumstances to attend Sunday Mass. Those who deliberately fail to attend Sunday Mass commit a grave sin.

Parishes throughout the archdiocese are preparing for the increase in Mass attendees by providing extra sanitation, social distancing, requiring facemasks and other preventative measures. Some parishes, such as St. Charles in Hartland, have experienced increased attendance in the past few weeks.

While the parish is still in Phase I, per the Archdiocese’s Catholic Comeback Matrix, Fr. Ken Omernick, pastor of St. Charles, said he was pleasantly surprised to see so many in attendance last week.

“Last week was our best week of attendance. Overflow seating from the church into our adjacent hall was utilized at all of our Masses except our Sunday evening Mass,” he said. “Parishioners consistently say that they miss being within a parish community and have repeatedly expressed how much they miss receiving the Eucharist. In terms of what we’d say to those reluctant to return to Mass, we advise everyone to make the best decision for their health.”

St. Stanislaus is thriving during these challenging times, said Jo Ann Neumann, parish secretary. The parish’s two priests offer three Sunday Masses as well as daily Mass and are accommodating parishioners in-person as well as through livestreaming.

“We are utilizing Eventbrite to make sure that we don’t exceed the 25 percent attendance. Our Masses are sold out, but we demonstrated that with proper social distancing, we can have 33 percent in the church. Most of our families are quite large, so that is why can still have enough space between people. Attendance has increased, especially for daily Mass and the confession lines are long.”

At the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Music Director Michael Batcho said staff and parishioners are feeling comfortable with the current Mass procedures in Phase I.

“Attendance has gone up slightly the past month but is still at about 50 percent of where we were pre-COVID at our English Masses,” he explained. “Prior to COVID, we planned on starting a Spanish Mass — attendance at that Mass is hearty, with well over 100 people each week.”

Batcho encourages the faithful to come back to Mass, adding they are ensuring the Cathedral is a safe environment for all.

“Many people who attend Mass have commented that they feel safer in the Cathedral than at the grocery store,” he said.

To maintain contact with parishioners throughout the pandemic, Fr. Dennis Saran, pastor of St. Dominic in Brookfield, sends out a weekly email, “Connected to Christ,” updating changes with the Matrix, and spiritually connecting the parish.

While St. Dominic’s is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily for personal prayer and at 25 percent capacity for weekend Masses, Pastoral Associate Mary Lestina said they miss the steady flow of parishioners, especially seniors who have utilized livestreaming.

“We receive many comments from our parish members. Recently one of our seniors wrote: ‘I miss not being physically in Mass. I miss my friends and prayer partners who usually sit in the same area where I do. It is a difficult time in our world. I am so grateful to Fr. Dennis, Fr. Aaron (Laskiewicz) and the staff for all they do to keep us connected. I look forward to the day when things will be normal,’” said Lestina. “May all of our parish members still tell us they miss Eucharist.”

While the parish is once again bringing Holy Communion to the homebound, Lestina said some members are fearful to return despite utilizing all safety protocols.

“We have also reached out to our senior population with phone calls and offer to pick up groceries, if needed,” said Lestina. “We also began a yard sign ministry, where we randomly place a sign in their yard for a few days which states on one side: ‘St. Dominic Misses You’ and the other side, ‘St. Dominic Loves You.’ It is a constant reminder that we are connected in Christ and long for the day when our entire parish family will return to Mass.”

Because they have an older parish, many parishioners are hesitant to return to Mass at Holy Cross Parish in Wilmot, said Parish Director Dr. Sandi Schmitt.

“Our regular parishioners are coming back slowly. They are usually hesitant, but once they see the safety precautions we have in place, they are very appreciative and return each week,” she said. “A fairly common conversation I have with parishioners after Mass the first time they come back is how good it is to be back. They usually have tears in their eyes. It’s so beautiful.”

At Holy Assumption Parish, Fr. David Zampino said attendance is up to 70 percent of where it was pre-pandemic. Weekday Mass has exceeded previous numbers by 40 percent, and they had to stop using the school chapel due to it becoming too crowded for weekday Masses.

He was happy that one of his 7-year-old parishioners celebrated her First Holy Communion during this time.

“You should have seen her eyes when she received Jesus in the Eucharist, it was so special,” he said. “We had it during the regular Mass but kept everyone distanced from one another. She received at our marble altar rail from my special chalice. She looked like an angel from heaven.”