The Bishops of England and Wales have indicated that they will reinstate the Sunday Obligation at the beginning of Advent, despite this week marking the official end of all Covid restrictions in England.
As the country celebrated so-called “Freedom Day” against a backdrop of rising cases and hospitalisations, the bishops said in a statement that “it is not possible at the present time for all of the faithful to attend Mass on a Sunday thus fulfilling their duty to God”.
“We are mindful of the certain fact that the Covid-19 virus is still circulating in society. Vaccines provide genuine protection against the worst effects of the virus, yet we recognise the legitimate fear on the part of some who otherwise desire to gather for Holy Mass,” they said.
Even though legislation around social distancing and masks has been lifted, the bishops said the Church in England and Wales “will be adopting a cautious approach to capacity and activity within our buildings, especially at corporate acts of worship”.
They reiterated the hope expressed after their plenary meeting in April that Catholics would experience “the important invitation to restore the Sunday Mass to its rightful centrality in our lives” as well as “a rekindling in our hearts of a yearning for the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist, as our response to the total, sacrificial love that Jesus has for us.”
“It is hoped that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfil this most important Church precept, that of the Sunday Obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021,” they said this week.
Churches in England and Wales reflected the bishops’ advice this week, advising Catholics to continue to follow restrictions even though they are no longer imposed by law. Westminster Cathedral has replaced seating that was removed during social distancing, and reintroduced congregational singing and the use of Confessionals. But it also asked people to continue to wear masks to Mass and when the Cathedral is busy and to maintain distance from other people where possible.