Catholic bishops of England and Wales suspend public acts of worship
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales have announced no public acts of worship will be celebrated from Friday evening due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The suspension has been announced in a letter from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon, CBCEW vice president, on behalf of all the bishops of the Conference.
In the letter, the Church leaders also reassure the faithful that ‘churches will remain open’ and ‘will be a focal point of prayer, where you will find solace and strength’.
‘However,’ they add, ‘the celebration of Mass, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, will take place without a public congregation.’
The bishops have stressed that ‘in these emergency circumstances, and for as long as they last, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is removed’.
‘This is, without doubt, the teaching of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2181). This pandemic is the ‘serious reason’ why this obligation does not apply at this time,’ they add.
The full letter:
CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF ENGLAND AND WALES
A letter from the President and Vice-President on behalf of all the Bishops of the Conference
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, so many aspects of our lives must change. This includes the ways in which we publicly express our faith. It is very clear that, following official advice and in order to keep each other safe, save lives and support the NHS, at this time we must not gather for public acts of worship in our churches. This will begin from Friday evening, 20th March 2020, until further notice.
Our churches will remain open. They are not closing. They will be a focal point of prayer, where you will find solace and strength. In visiting our churches at this time, we will observe with great care the practices of hygiene and the guidance on social distancing.
However, the celebration of Mass, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, will take place without a public congregation.
Knowing that the Mass is being celebrated; joining in spiritually in that celebration; watching the live-streaming of the Mass; following its prayers at home; making an act of spiritual communion: this is how we share in the Sacrifice of Christ in these days. These are the ways in which we will sanctify Sunday, and indeed every day.
We want everyone to understand that in these emergency circumstances, and for as long as they last, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is removed. This is, without doubt, the teaching of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2181). This pandemic is the ‘serious reason’ why this obligation does not apply at this time.
You will find more details about the pathway of prayer and sacramental life we are now to take in the accompanying document and on the Bishops’ Conference website (www.cbcew.org.uk). Your own bishop and parish priest will provide further support, encouragement and information about our way of prayer together in the coming weeks.
The second vital aspect of these challenging times is our care for each other. There are so many ways in which we are to do this: being attentive to the needs of our neighbour, especially the elderly and vulnerable; contributing to our local food banks; volunteering for charitable initiatives and organisations; simply keeping in touch by all the means open to us.
During these disturbing and threatening times, the rhythm of the prayer of the Church will continue. Please play your part in it. The effort of daily kindness and mutual support for all will continue and increase. Please play your part in this too. For your commitment to this, we thank you.
‘The Lord is my shepherd,
There is nothing I shall want.’
May God bless us all.
Vincent Cardinal Nichols
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP
18th March 2020
Further Liturgical advice:
CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE OF ENGLAND AND WALES
Liturgical Advice in the light of the COVID-19 Pandemic
18th March 2020
This advice will be reviewed and developed as necessary weekly.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, having consulted the Ordinaries of the Dioceses, has agreed that the cessation of public liturgies should begin from Friday evening 20th March 2020. Because of the situation the Church finds herself in, the obligation for the faithful to attend Holy Mass on a Sunday or Holy day of Obligation is removed, until further notice.
The following instruction is now given for the celebration of the Sacraments and sacramentals of the Church at this time.
Celebrations of Holy Mass
Priests (parish priest and assistant priests) who hold parochial office should continue to celebrate Mass in a church within their parish without the faithful on a daily basis. Other priests (i.e. retired from office or entrusted with a non-parochial ministry) may celebrate Mass without the faithful in a church, chapel or their private home. Deacons should not participate in these celebrations.
The continuing celebration of Mass ensures that the faithful can join in spiritual communion with the priests of the Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states (1364): As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out. Daily liturgical resources for those at home, including those for making a “Spiritual Communion” with the priest, will be available on the CBCEW website.
Information about the live-streaming of the celebration of Mass will be made widely available in our dioceses so that the faithful can participate in the prayers of the priest at Mass at home. A fine example of this is from The National Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham will continue its full liturgical programme and this will be available to all via the Internet (www.walsingham.org.uk)
Wherever possible, during this period, churches will remain open, especially on Sundays, for individual private prayer, without any organised services, and offering prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Baptisms should be deferred until such time that the public health advice is that congregations can gather safely. In case of necessity, baptisms should be celebrated with all the hygiene precautions that have been laid down by the Church in its COVID-19 advice.
Sacrament of Reconciliation
Confession may be offered on request as long as hygiene and social distancing requirements are observed (eg a physical barrier between the penitent and the priest such as a grille and cloth). The use of Rite II and Rite III of the Rite of Penance is not permitted as this, by necessity, requires the gathering of people in our churches.
First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion
These celebrations should be postponed until a time that allows for families and friends to gather safely within our churches.
The celebrations of Confirmation should be deferred until such time that the public health advice is that congregations can resume public worship.
If possible, the celebration of the sacrament of Matrimony should be deferred until such time that people can gather in numbers safely. However, if this is not possible and only in the most pressing of circumstances, then those present for the marriage should be restricted to the celebrant, bride and groom and immediate family, and if necessary, the legal Registrar.
Anointing of the Sick
No pastoral visits should be made to people who are self-isolating until the isolation period ends. However, do offer phone support. When anointing the sick, the Oil of the Sick can be applied using a cotton bud which can be burned afterwards (one end for the head and the other for the hands) and the priest extend his hands over the sick person for laying on of hands, without physical contact. This has been confirmed as a valid mode of celebrating the sacraments which involve “laying on of hands.” Visits to people in care homes or hospitals should follow advice from the staff on infection control.
Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil
This will be dependent on the forthcoming decisions of the Bishops for the Holy Week ceremonies.
There must be great pastoral sensitivity to this issue. The funeral service should take place at the graveside or at a crematorium, subject to the conditions laid down by the cemetery or crematorium authorities. Arrangements should be made for a Mass to be celebrated in memoriam when congregations are allowed to gather.
Rev. Canon Christopher Thomas
18th March 2020
Picture: Westminster Cathedral. (Nick Ansell/PA).