From THE TABLET, 18 March 2020

The Catholic Church in England and Wales will suspend public Masses and other liturgies from this Friday, 20 March.

The decision, which was made in consultation with the bishops of all the dioceses and archdioceses of England and Wales, was announced today.

“In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, so many aspects of our lives must change. This includes the ways in which we publicly express our faith,” the bishops’ conference said in a statement. “It’s very clear that, following official advice and in order to keep each other safe, save lives and support the NHS, at this time we must not gather for public acts of worship in our churches. This will begin from Friday evening, 20 March 2020, until further notice.

“Although we won’t be gathering for public acts of worship, our churches will remain open. They are not closing. They will be a focal point of prayer, where you will find solace and strength.

“In visiting our churches at this time, we will observe with great care the practices of hygiene and the guidance on social distancing.

However, the celebration of Mass, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, will take place without a public congregation.”

The unprecedented move was signalled by Cardinal Vincent Nichols last weekend, when he told BBC Radio 4 that services may have to be suspended.

He indicated that the Church in England and Wales may follow the example of the Church in other countries and move to broadcasting Masses over the internet.

“We can stream these celebrations and then people can join in and follow Mass through that virtual link,” he said.

The Catholic bishops in Scotland have this morning announced that all public Masses are suspended. An announcement on the coronavirus crisis is expected from the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales this morning.

In a statement, the Scottish bishops said the move was “unprecedented” and will take effect from tomorrow.

Priests will continue to celebrate Mass in private, praying for those suffering from Covid-19 and those who care for them.

Churches will remain open for personal prayer and parish priests are asked to welcome individuals who seek consolation and encouragement from the Lord and to be available for the reception of the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick and Holy Communion as and when they are needed especially for the sick and housebound.

For the celebration of baptisms, funeral Masses and weddings, the bishops asked that only close family are invited.

The bishops’ statement also encourages Catholics where possible to access the live streaming of Holy Mass from local parishes which have that facility.

They advise that Holy Week liturgies may be curtailed but ask Catholics to remain together in spirit and in prayer and to join with all Scotland’s Churches in a National Day of Prayer this Sunday 22nd March, Mothering Sunday, “to pray for our country and our world in this time of need”.

The Church in Wales has also suspended all services. The Church of England and other churches announced similar measures yesterday.

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