A parish priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has rescinded a dispensation he claimed would excuse his parishioners from the Sunday Mass obligation on the weekend of Christmas this year, the diocese has confirmed.

Because Christmas falls on a Monday, Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on two consecutive days - one for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and one for Christmas.

In October, the Diocese of Pittsburgh sent out an e-mail to all of its priests, reminding them of this obligation and reiterating the importance of keeping the Mass schedules in accordance with guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

However, in a parish bulletin announcement on Sunday, Nov. 26, Fr. Lou Vallone, pastor of St. Catherine’s parish in Crescent, Pa. attempted to offer a dispensation from Mass obligations to his parishioners.

Vallone wrote that he would dispense anyone of the Sunday Mass obligation if they met the following three requirements: They read the dispensation announcement in the parish bulletin, they were a parishioner of the parish either by “geography or registration,” and finally, that all giving envelopes for both celebrations be placed in the collection basket of the Mass of their choosing that weekend.

Fr. Nick Vaskov, the executive director of communications for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, told CNA that the diocese was made aware of the broad dispensation and “saw a flaw in it, because while a pastor can dispense an individual, he can’t generally offer a dispensation for the individual to apply to himself.”

Canon law allows for individual dispensations from Mass obligations in the cases of a just cause, such as “in case of a natural disaster like a blizzard or something like that,” Fr. Vaskov said, but dispensations can not be given generally or without just cause.

“In light of this we followed up with (Vallone)...just reiterating the importance of educating the faithful as to the importance of the Advent season, the beauty of the liturgy in that sense and the anticipation of Christmas, and that the schedule for that weekend shouldn’t change,” Vaskov told CNA.

In a Nov. 30 letter to priests and deacons of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Fr. Lawrence DiNardo, diocesan vicar general, wrote "it has been the consistent practice in the diocese that a dispensation from the obligation of attendance at Mass only is considered in a time of some natural disaster or other major cause that might exist which requires a dispensation. Such does not exist in this case. The celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Advent is an important part of the liturgical year and should be celebrated as such. To do otherwise, minimizes the importance of this final Sunday before the celebration of Christmas." 

"I would inform you that you may not grant a dispensation from the obligation of participation at Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Advent," DiNardo wrote.

The letter also encouraged clergy to "instruct your parishioners regarding the importance of the celebration of the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas and the need to participate in these sacred days in the Church."

Vaskov confirmed to CNA that Vallone had rescinded his dispensation as of Thursday evening.