The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan, has issued a pastoral letter to his diocese, asking the faithful who feel able to return to Mass to do so.
Although he stipulates that Catholics who are amongst the “self-shielding, the sick” or “the vulnerable” should feel no obligation to attend mass, Egan stresses that those who can return “are truly welcome”. Given the varying infection rates of Covid-19 over the past few months, it may also be prudent to attend mass on a weekday rather than a Sunday, noted Egan, who has been Bishop of Portsmouth since 2012.
Returning to mass, being “nourished by His Word and His Sacraments” allows us to fulfil our “spiritual needs” as well as our “bodily needs”, the bishop said. Thanking his clergy and parishioners, Egan also emphasised that livestreaming is “not the same” as physically attending mass and receiving the eucharist in person.
In expressing this sentiment, he echoed a recent statement by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, who has stressed the importance of a return to physical celebration of the sacraments.
In a letter sent to the presidents of the world’s bishops conferences and approved by the Pope, Sarah asked that, “as soon as circumstances permit”, dioceses return to “the normality of Christian life”. This has, Sarah said, “the church building as its home and the celebration of the liturgy, especially the Eucharist”.
Returning to the pre-coronavirus norm is both “necessary and urgent”, he emphasised, “no broadcast is comparable to personal participation or can replace it”. Sarah warned that virtual participation risks distancing the believer from a “personal and intimate” encounter with God.
However, in order to return, “concrete measures that can be taken to reduce the spread of the virus to a minimum” should be “identified and adopted”, the cardinal added. Once this has been established “we must return to the Eucharist ... with an increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with him, to receive him and to bring him to our brothers and sisters with the witness of a life full of faith, love and hope.”