A pastoral statement from The Society’s Council of Bishops on the proposed suspension of public worship from 5 November
Dear Friends, Our nation is facing a crisis of a scale and proportion unknown for over seventy years and as we write we are acutely aware of the desperate needs of those whose work is insecure, whose businesses face bankruptcy, whose education is being disrupted, whose mental health is being damaged by fear and anxiety and who can barely afford to feed their children.
We are equally aware of the extraordinary energy, agility and imagination that so many of you have demonstrated in recent months as you have risen to the task of meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the people you serve. The dedication you have shown has been profoundly moving to witness and we take great pride in the ministry you have offered.
But all that we do as God’s people flows from our worship. The Mass is and must always be the very heart and centre of our lives, our gravest duty, our sweetest joy. As we meet the Lord at his altar, we are inspired to serve and to witness. Without the Mass, ministry becomes meaningless and any acts of love and service are swiftly rendered unsustainable. We can never allow our worship to be seen as dispensable, nor can we collude with a culture that wishes to see it as one activity amongst others. The Mass is literally a matter of life and death. Without regular re-orientation towards the life of God in the Mass, we are lost, we are nothing.
That is why the decision that has been made by HM Government and which will be debated later this week in Parliament to suspend public worship for a second time this year is such a grave one, and we write above all with the assurance of our prayers as you lead your people through this wilderness. We are aware of a profound disappointment, bordering on anger, in many of our congregations, an expression of the deep longing of the people of England to gather for worship.
We are very grateful to Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahon for the measured lead they have taken and the wise words they have spoken in recent days. Our experience is that the Mass has been offered in the parishes we serve with huge care and great attention to safety and so we too would ask for clear evidence of transmission of the virus within congregations before we felt able to support even a brief second suspension of public worship. We express our solidarity with the Cardinal and the Archbishop in asking HM Government to rethink this aspect of the Regulations which will be presented to Parliament later in the week.
Of course we acknowledge our duty as subjects of Her Majesty to play our part in overcoming this deadly danger to our national life. Should the Regulations be passed as they now stand, we look to our priests to act strictly within the law and suspend all public worship as they will have been directed to do.
However the sacraments of the Church are life-giving not just for us but for the nation and we cannot simply turn off the source of sacramental grace. We therefore urge our priests to use their imaginations once again in celebrating the Mass within the law as local context allows and, where possible, to live-stream the Mass to the faithful who can unite themselves with this offering through an act of spiritual communion.
We write on All Souls’ Day, a day on which we are powerfully reminded of the mercy of God in Jesus Christ who, through his saving work, draws us from death to life. It is in the sure hope of that salvation that we face the weeks and days ahead, for the God who shares his life in Jesus Christ is always faithful.
Please be assured of our thanks and our prayers.
+ TONY WAKEFIELD The Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop of Wakefield, Chairman of The Society’s Council of Bishops
+ GLYN BEVERLEY The Rt Revd Glyn Webster, Bishop of Beverley
+ PHILIP BURNLEY The Rt Revd Philip North, Bishop of Burnley
+ MARTIN CICESTR The Rt Revd Martin Warner, Bishop of Chichester
+ JONATHAN EBBSFLEET The Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall, Bishop of Ebbsfleet
+ JONATHAN FULHAM The Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, Bishop of Fulham
+ WILL LEWES The Rt Revd Will Hazlewood, Bishop of Lewes
+ NORMAN RICHBOROUGH The Rt Revd Norman Banks, Bishop of Richborough