Catholic Churches across England are rejoicing with the news that public acts of worship may resume from 4th July.
Many Catholic Churches are already open for private prayer and the same safety measures will be in place plus more specific guidelines for Masses, funerals, weddings and baptisms.
Bishop David Oakley, who was ordained Bishop of Northampton three days before lockdown said:
“It is such a joy to know that our Eucharistic fast is soon to be over! We have been patient, but now let us prepare to celebrate Holy Mass and the sacraments with a renewed sense of faith and devotion. Let us also remain vigilant so that this will be a safe environment for all.”
The Diocese of Northampton recognises that not all Catholic Churches are able to open for public liturgy. A spokesperson for the diocese said:
“As the measures for opening for private prayer will still be required, it is unlikely that those unable to open currently will be able to open for public acts of worship. We remain delighted, however that individuals and families will be able to gather for worship together.”
The following, Guidance for the Celebration of Mass has been prepared by Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales to answer any questions you may have.
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Am I obliged to attend Mass on Sundays?
The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have continued to offer dispensation regarding the obligation of Sunday Mass attendance. The Diocese of Northampton encourages those who can to attend a Mass during the week or on Saturday mornings or evenings rather than the busier Sundays. If you are in the shielded group or wish not to attend, parishes are encouraged to stream Mass as they were during lockdown. If you parish does not live stream we would suggest you log in to one of the several masses live streamed from the Cathedral in Northampton.
Do I need to book to attend Mass?
There are no general booking arrangements for Masses across our diocese although some parishes may have their own methods for ensuring sufficient places at mass for those who wish to attend so please see your parish’s website or newsletter.
We would generally encourage people to attend Mass at quieter times during the week to avoid any disappointment. Numbers will be capped and unfortunately in some cases people may need be turned away for their safety and the safety of others. We can assure you we are doing all we can to prevent this outcome.
Do I have to receive Communion?
While Communion is an integral part of our celebration of Mass there is no obligation at this time to receive communion if you are concerned for your or others health. A spiritual communion is sufficient in this case.
Will there be children’s liturgy?
We will celebrate mass with some differences as we return to public worship. The homily will be shorter and there will be no hymns. Due to this fact there will not be enough time for children’s liturgy.
We will be able to sing?
Sadly, we will be unable to sing. Government guidelines suggest that the virus may spread further and quicker if communal singing takes place. Provided the organist is able to remain at a social distance and the area he or she touches is wiped clean as per the guidelines, accompanying music may be permitted.
What are the social Distancing Guidelines when I go to Mass?
The Government maintains that the 2m social distancing requirements should be applied where possible. The Government has also said it is possible to go to “1m plus” which means you can space people more closely (with a minimum of 1m). Where this is the case a mitigation of risk must also applied. In the case of our churches, this would mean the compulsory wearing of a face covering for members of the congregation. If those on the sanctuary are sufficiently distant from the congregation, there is no need to wear face coverings.
My priest is over 70 years old, can he celebrate Mass publicly?
Priests should remain mindful of their own personal situation with respect to potential exposure to virus transmission. The Diocese of Northampton has contacted all priests who are over 70 and re-assured them that they are under no obligation to celebrate Mass if they have concerns over their health.
It is permissible for those in the 70+ age group, and those who are vulnerable to infection, to celebrate Mass, but it is strongly advised that they do not distribute Holy Communion and take particular care to be constantly socially distant from the congregation. They should return to the sacristy directly after Mass is ended.
I normally go to the sacristy before Mass to check on my priest, is this allowed?
Only those necessary should be in the sacristy before Mass. The celebrant, sacristan, or server should prepare everything for the celebration of Mass with care. Single-use gloves should be worn at this stage.
Will we have the parts of the Mass as normal?
Readers should be supplied with single-use gloves and should avoid touching the microphones or the Lectionary during the Liturgy of the Word, apart from page turning.
The homily should be brief, to minimise the time that people are congregated in the church building. The Prayer of the Faithful may be omitted?
There should be no offertory procession of the gifts of bread and wine to the altar; the priest should have these on the credence table or the altar before Mass begins. It is strongly recommended to try to consecrate only as many hosts as are required for the celebration so that the least number possible are then place in the Tabernacle
There should be no sharing of the collection plate or bag. People should be encouraged to make their donation to the church online or via standing order. Plates or other collecting boxes for cash offerings should be placed at the entrances and exits of churches, and this should be overseen by stewards. The collection should be consolidated into plastic bags, sealed, placed into a secure location and left for 72 hours before counting. Counters should wear gloves when doing this task and the area should be well ventilated and cleaned before and afterwards. There will be no sign of peace.
How will communion take place?
After the prayer and its response “Behold the Lamb of God…Lord I am not worthy,” the priest should hold up the Host to the Congregation and say audibly “The Body of Christ” to which the people should respond “Amen.” In the same way, he elevates the chalice and says, “The Blood of Christ” and again the people respond “Amen.” As the people have already acclaimed the presence of the Lord at the Priest’s Communion, the People’s Communion is distributed in silence with no dialogue between minister and communicant.
There are two options for the distribution of the Eucharist:
Once the priest has received Holy Communion, he should cleanse his hands with alcohol sanitiser before opening the pre-prepared ciborium for the Communion of the people.
Any deacon or other Lay Minister of Communion who assists, should similarly cleanse their hands and then receive communion from the priest from the people’s ciborium, and under one kind only. They should then cleanse their hands again before receiving their ciborium from which they remove the covering or pall if it is still in place.
At the place where communion is to be distributed, a physical barrier should be placed, for example a prie-dieu (with kneeler on the priest’s side) or a small table to socially distance the minister distributing Holy Communion from communicants. Communion must be given silently in the hand only, with the communicant standing, and avoiding any physical contact. People should wait in their pews until instructed to move forward to the priest for Holy Communion by the Stewards, always following the regulations on social distancing in the Communion procession. When they approach the priest, they should do so with arms at “full stretch” so that there is a good distance between the priest and the communicant. Their hands, palms upwards, one of top of the other, should be extended as flatly as possible. Having received Holy Communion, communicants should return to their pews in a prayerful and orderly manner.
Once Communion is complete, the priest returns to the altar and places the unused Hosts, without touching them, into the Tabernacle and he cleanses the sacred vessels himself in the usual way.
The priest receives Holy Communion as described and immediately cleanses his paten and chalice. He then holds a reverent silence before the Prayer after Communion, giving the Blessing and dismissal. At this point, the other Ministers of Holy Communion who will assist the priest come forward, cleanse their hands and receive Holy Communion under one kind. They then move to the points for distribution and communicants are stewarded forward in an orderly manner to receive Holy Communion as above, and then immediately leave the Church. The remaining Blessed Sacrament is placed into the Tabernacle and the vessels cleansed in the usual way.
Source: Guidance for the Celebration of Mass, CBCEW 25th June 2020.
The Metropolitan Archbishops of the Catholic Church in England have send the following message to the Catholic Community in England:
Dear Brothers and sisters in Christ,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
On Tuesday we heard the announcement that, from the 4th July this year, places of worship will be able to reopen for prayer and services. We welcome this news with great joy. Since the lockdown began, members of all faiths have faced restrictions on how they have been able to celebrate important religious festivals. Our own experience of Easter was unlike any other we have known. Now, in our churches, and with our people, we can look forward again to celebrating the central mysteries of our faith in the Holy Eucharist.
The recent reopening of our churches for individual private prayer was an important milestone on our journey towards resuming communal worship. Our churches that have opened have put in place all the measures needed to ensure the risks of virus transmission are minimised. This includes effective hand sanitisation, social distancing, and cleaning. We remain committed to making sure these systems of hygiene and infection control meet Government and public health standards.
We want to thank everyone within the Catholic community for sustaining the life of faith in such creative ways, not least in the family home. We thank our priests for celebrating Mass faithfully for their people, and for the innovative ways in which they have enabled participation through live-streaming and other means. We are grateful for the pastoral care shown by our clergy to those for whom this time of lockdown has been especially difficult, and, in particular, towards those who have been bereaved. We recognise too the chaplaincy services that have played a vital role in supporting those most in need. Gaining from the experience of all that we have been through, and bringing those lessons into the future, we must now look forward.
With the easing of restrictions on worship with congregations, we tread carefully along the path that lies ahead. Our lives have been changed by the experience of the pandemic and it is clear that we cannot simply return to how things were before lockdown. We remain centred on the Lord Jesus and His command at the Last Supper to “do this in memory of me.” We must now rebuild what it means to be Eucharistic communities, holding fast to all that we hold dear, while at the same time exploring creative ways to meet changed circumstances.
It is important to reaffirm that, at present, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended. A significant number of churches may remain closed as they are unable to meet the requirements for opening for individual prayer. Fulfilling these requirements is a precondition for any church opening after the 4th July for the celebration of Mass with a congregation.
Please be aware that there will be a limit on the number of people who can attend Mass in our churches. This will determined locally in accordance with social distancing requirements. We therefore need to reflect carefully on how and when we might be able to attend Mass. We cannot return immediately to our customary practices. This next step is not, in any sense, a moment when we are going ‘back to normal.’
We ask every Catholic to think carefully about how and when they will return to Mass. Our priests may need to consider whether it is possible to celebrate additional Masses at the weekends. Given there is no Sunday obligation, we ask you to consider the possibility of attending Mass on a weekday. This will ease the pressure of numbers for Sunday celebrations and allow a gradual return to the Eucharist for more people.
Moving forward, there will still be many people who cannot attend Mass in person. We therefore ask parishes, wherever possible, to continue live-streaming Sunday Mass, both for those who remain shielding and vulnerable, and also for those unable to leave home because of advanced age or illness.
When we return to Mass there will some differences in how the celebration takes place. For the time being, there will be no congregational singing and Mass will be shorter than usual. None of this detracts from the centrality of our encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist. We ask everyone to respect and follow the guidance that will be issued and the instructions in each church.
“As I have loved you,” said the Lord Jesus, “so you must love each other.” (Jn 13:34) The lockdown has brought forth remarkable acts of charity, of loving kindness, from Catholics across our communities as they have cared for the needy and vulnerable. We have seen love in action through charitable works, and through the service of many front-line keyworkers who are members of our Church. Now we can begin to return to the source of that charity, Christ himself, present for us sacramentally, body, blood, soul and divinity, in Holy Communion. As we prepare to gather again to worship, let us, respectful of each other, come together in thanksgiving to God for the immense gift of the Holy Eucharist.
Yours devotedly in Christ
✠ Vincent Cardinal Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster
✠ Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool
✠ Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham
✠ John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark
Let us keep each other in prayer over the next few weeks, and let us pray that as this new chapter in the Diocese of Northampton opens, that all of us together will be able to continue that great mission we have been entrusted with of building God’s kingdom in this part of his vineyard”