By Ellen Teague in THE TABLET, 30 July 2020

Catholics are delaying returning to Mass in their local parish until they feel safer, with some saying they prefer online Masses to the restricted, socially distanced liturgies available in churches.

The Tablet spoke to Catholics across the country, including those at meetings of Catholic People’s Week and the Justice and Peace Network, some of whom asked to remain anonymous.

Many said they found booking to attend Mass strange, they missed singing and said they had become used to attending online Masses around the world. Phil Kerton of Southwark diocese reported that several friends “are starting to wonder if they should start to detach themselves from their geographical parishes”.

Celia Capstick, a former chair of the National Board of Catholic Women, said: “As someone who is elderly, shielding and not driving anymore, I am speaking for those of us – a million or more – who are not planning to go back physically to church any time soon; our sons would prefer that we did not venture far.”

She described livestreamed Mass and prayer group Zooms as “a spiritual lifeline”, and offered some advice about parish fund-raising, proposing “offertory envelopes supplemented by bank transfers; this loss of a symbolic gesture within the Mass is probably a necessary one in our increasingly cashless world”.

One respondent, who would be “unlikely to be going back”, said: “My local church was not doing anything at all, even answering the phone, during lockdown.” Another said: “Our parish priest publicly told the over seventies not to attend.”

David Jackson, from the Leeds diocese, described feeling “very disconnected” after being an active member of his parish for 45 years, adding: “One wonders if there are any ministries in the parish anymore for the over seventies or is it out of sight, out of mind?”

Popular livestreams have included the weekend Mass celebrated by Redemptorist Fr Denis McBride in a Hampshire garden. Pax Christi Zoom prayer gatherings, led by director Theresa Alessandro, have regularly attracted around 70 people and link into such programmes as the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.

Meanwhile, some Catholics have decided to return to Mass and observe social distancing. Author and Tablet literary editor Maggie Fergusson said: “I rather enjoyed being a roving Catholic during lockdown, listening to some of the best homilies I’ve ever heard (notably from Timothy Radcliffe in Blackfriars, Oxford, and Alban McCoy in St Edmund’s College, Cambridge).

“But, for me anyway, it is difficult not to get hopelessly distracted ‘watching’ Mass surrounded by work demanding attention,” she said. “And, crucially, you can’t receive Communion virtually. That surely is what Mass is really about.”

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