ARLINGTON, Va. — When the pandemic started and churches shut down, the Catholic Church gave parishioners a general dispensation from their requirement to attend Mass in person.
That dispensation was lifted Saturday.
Practically, it means that DC-area Catholics who are able to are now encouraged to return to their churches and celebrate Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days.
The Arlington Diocese announced the move in a press release earlier this month. The policy shift was implemented there, as well as in the Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore and the Dioceses of Wilmington and Wheeling-Charleston.
The decision to drop the dispensation follows a steady decrease in COVID infections areawide, and an increase in the availability of the vaccine.
"Here we are, able now to see the light," said Father Patrick Posey, the rector of the St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington.
Capacity limits for Catholic churches in the DMV were lifted earlier this spring.
Before heading into Mass at St. Thomas Saturday morning, Jean-Pierre Lteif told WUSA9 he opted to attend Mass in person throughout the pandemic. But now, he says, more people are joining him.
"It's getting packed now," he said.
Lteif welcomes it.
"I think they are trying times and, you know, people have got to go back to the church even more," he said. "There's more reason to go back now to church than ever before in my opinion."
For Gloria Johnson, St. Thomas More Cathedral has been a part of her life for years. She first started attending in 1942.
Still, exceptions to the in-person attendance policy remain: those who are physically unable are still welcome to celebrate Mass via live stream.
"This obligation does not apply to those who are ill; those who have reason to believe that they were recently exposed to the coronavirus, another serious or contagious illness; those who are confined to their home, a hospital, or nursing facility; or those with serious underlying health conditions," according to the release from the Diocese of Arlington.
"If you are sick, stay home and take care of yourself," said Father Posey.
For those who can, though, Father Posey hopes after a trying year, DMV Catholics choose to congregate once again in the pews.
"We need each other," he said.