Bishop's Office Letter
Dear Parish Administrators and Secretaries,
I’m sure many of you will have been watching the Prime Minister’s address to the nation this evening concerning the introduction of a new lockdown. Attached to this email are HM Government’s National Lockdown Guidance notes for England, page four of which relates specifically to places of worship:
Communal worship and life events - You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony. You should follow the guidance on the safe use of places of worship and must not mingle with anyone outside of your household or support bubble when attending a place of worship. Weddings, funerals and religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to someone’s death are all subject to limits on the numbers that can attend, and weddings and civil ceremonies may only take place in exceptional circumstances.
This means there is no statutory obligation on places of worship to close at this time, and that the public celebration of the Sacraments, where all necessary stewarding and sanitisation measures are in place, may continue.
Needless to say, the Archbishop’s email of last Saturday (which is reproduced in full below) still applies:
… I would, therefore, suggest that a local determination is made by each parish priest or parochial administrator about the Mass schedule for Sundays and weekdays and the opening of churches for personal prayer ... Wherever possible, please enable people to attend Mass and visit the church for prayer, with all necessary stewarding and sanitisation measures in place. If, however, it is not possible to ensure the church buildings are properly stewarded and sanitised, or the risks are deemed too great, or the priest himself becomes unwell or needs to self-isolate, and no alternative provision can be make, please take whatever temporary action is judged necessary … This decision should be reviewed each week, … It will, obviously, be important to communicate any changes to our parishioners, explaining the temporary nature of this action and the reasons for it.
Unless exceptional circumstances dictate otherwise, it is crucial that our churches remain open for the celebration of Mass and personal prayer. This is vital to our spiritual health and wellbeing. With the correct measures in place, our churches are safe places. It is, however, paramount that clergy and laity alike follow the requirements for distance, stewarding, and sanitisation, as specified in the guidance sent out previously. The instructions concerning the liturgy must also be followed in full. Failure to implement these measures is an extremely serious matter, and potentially jeopardises peoples’ health. The laity have the right to the reassurance provided by the guidelines for the celebration of the Sacraments in the context of the pandemic.
I hope this information will address any immediate questions which may arise at this time.
With every good wish for Christmastide and the New Year, and with kind regards,