24 November 2021, The Tablet

Bishops delay return of Sunday obligation

Bishops delay return of Sunday obligation

Bishops in England and Wales have postponed the planned return to Sunday obligation.
CNS photo/Gregory Shemitz

Bishops have decided to delay a return to Sunday obligation, suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At a press conference on Friday representatives of the Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales announced the delay.

They had planned to renew the obligation starting November 28th, thus requiring Catholics to return to Church this Christmas. But concerns over the numbers of infections and the ongoing risk to the vulnerable persuaded the bishops, who have just concluded their annual plenary assembly in Leeds, to delay indefinitely the return of the obligation to attend Mass each Sunday.

In a statement published following the press conference titled “Honouring Sunday” they explained their decision: “At this time, we recognise that for some people there may be certain factors which hinder attendance at Sunday Mass. The pandemic is clearly not over. The risk of infection is still present. For some, there is legitimate fear in gathering together. As your bishops, we recognise that these prevailing circumstances suggest that not everyone is yet in the position to fulfil the absolute duty to attend freely Sunday Mass.”

A relic taken from the thigh bone of St Bernadette of Lourdes is to be taken on a tour around dioceses across Britain.

At the press conference Father Christopher Thomas, general secretary of the bishops' conference, was asked if Catholics who missed Mass this Christmas would be committing a sin, and answered simply and unequivocally: “No.”

However, the bishop did recognise a shared longing to return to Communion: “We are attentive to the experience of the last year or so, when we have lived our faith through the limitations of the pandemic. We have heard of the longing which some express as a “homesickness”. We want to be in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We yearn to celebrate the sacraments together, especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We desire to be nourished by our Lord in Holy Communion.”

The statement also noted that some Catholics were “returning to more regular patterns of parish life” while others “have been exploring other ways to practice their faith including Spiritual Communion via live streaming”.

Although over 80 per cent of UK adults are fully vaccinated, and deaths and hospitalisations have gone down, the infection rate remains high and there are concerns about the pressures on hospitals over the winter from traditional flu cases as well as the coronavirus.

New plans to train priests and bishops in safeguarding were also unveiled, with Bishop Paul Mason noting that until now each diocese has had its own way of trying to address the question of training question but that under the new system, “we’re starting now to reach out to each diocese…to start to build the relationship between the new safeguarding standards agency and the dioceses so we can start to work together”. According to Bishop Mason, the new training model will be implemented in March of 2022.

Also on the agenda were plans to help resettle an estimated 20,000 Afghan refugees, with parishes across England and Wales invited to take part and provide whatever support they can.

Following on from Cop26, climate remains a priority with Bishop John Arnold of Salford expressing his disappointment with the COP26 failure to agree to phase out coal power, having instead chosen to phase down the ongoing reliance of much of the world economy on coal powered power plants.

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