The global spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a fast-evolving situation. From Thursday, 5 November to Wednesday, 2 December, the Government has said that places of worship in England, including Catholic churches, will only be permitted to open for private individual prayer and funerals.
When this was first announced, Bishop Marcus contacted the Prime Minister, adding his personal request to the statement made on behalf of all the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales by the CBCEW President and Vice-President, Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahon, that churches be allowed to stay open for communal worship and religious services throughout the forthcoming period of national ‘lock-down’. Bishop Marcus asked that both lay faithful and clergy circulate his letter and the CBCEW statement and contact their MPs. In the letter, the Bishop told Mr Johnson: ‘Our human nature is comprised of body and spirit, and the spirit is sustained by hope. It is in the heart that hope is born and builds within us the resilience we need to face the challenges in our lives. What I ask you is, please help places of worship to sustain hope in the hearts of a great many people of our country.’ You can read the Bishop’s letter in full here and the CBCEW statement here.
**Based on the Government’s restrictions introduced on Thursday 5 November, Bishop Marcus has issued some useful FAQs – please click here to link to that document.**
The following aspects of previously-issued guidance remain in place…
Arrangements to stay open for private prayer
The conditions for churches be permitted to open, agreed by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) in collaboration with the Government’s Task Force, include physical-distancing, stewarding and sanitising measures. Individual parishes will publicise opening times and days, depending on the availability of volunteer stewards and with social-distancing arrangements having been put in place. Only those churches assessed as safe to open for private prayer will remain open for this purpose and as their opening days and times may be subject to change, perhaps at short-notice, please always refer to your own parish’s website and/or social media for details of when your church is open for private prayer.
Some of the measures those who go to a church can expect to see include:
- Separated entrance and exits, a signposted ‘one way’ system, and a reduced capacity owing to the necessity of a seating layout suitable for a one-metre physical separation.
- As of 8 August 2020, face coverings became mandatory for all churchgoers (except those who are exempt from wearing a face covering)
- At least two volunteer stewards on duty throughout the period of time a church is open, who are able to monitor the number of people in the church and undertake appropriate cleaning arrangements. The Guidance is that stewards ‘should not be drawn from those instructed to shield themselves, nor from groups considered more vulnerable to coronavirus’.
- No-one under 18 may volunteer or be admitted to the building unless accompanied by an adult member of their own household.
- Toilets will be open, but only if there is provision for them to be cleaned after each use.
Could YOU volunteer as a steward?
Churches may ONLY open when at least TWO volunteer stewards are present. If you are not in one of the vulnerable groups – and you don’t mind a bit of form-filling – why not volunteer to help your church to stay open for private prayer? If your Parish Priest has asked for volunteers via the Parish Website or social media, feel free to contact him direct – otherwise, email firstname.lastname@example.org in the first instance, confirming that you’re not in any of the vulnerable groups, and if your parish is one of those which is not yet able to open a church because of needing volunteers, your details and generous offer to help will be forwarded as appropriate…Thank you in advance!
What else stays the same?
In the first instance, always contact your Parish Priest for more information. In the fast-changing circumstances, every effort will be made to give timely and accurate updates. Some initiatives taken during the first lock-down still remain:
- Leeds Cathedral, the Mother Church of the Diocese of Leeds, live-streams daily Mass, usually at 12.30pm (12noon on SATURDAYS) and preceded by the Angelus and Rosary which will be prayed at 11.50am (11.20am on SATURDAYS). The Cathedral’s live-stream can be viewed at: www.leedscathedrallive.org.uk Holy Mass is live-streamed on Sundays at 11:00am.
- Weekday and Sunday Masses are still being celebrated online by priests in several of our parishes. The following list will be updated upon receipt of information about where to find Holy Mass Online in the Diocese of Leeds
- Practical help such as a pick up and drop off of groceries and pharmacy service, dog walking, plus other telephone and support services (especially for those experiencing financial hardship) is available via the diocesan charity Catholic Care which has initiated its Catholic Care Community Response Service
- Continuing to give to the Offertory helps secure the future of your parish, its churches and its priests. Setting up a Standing Order is the best way and this can be done by telephone or online. There’s also Offertory Giving by Telephone and a secure Online Parish Offertory on your parish website.
Keeping in touch with your Parish Priest
- Bishop Marcus regularly updates all clergy with the latest Guidance for our own Diocese.
- Additional guidance has been drafted by the Secretariat of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, in collaboration with the Government’s Task Force, regarding the Sacrament of the Sick and Pastoral Visits to the Homes of Parishioners.
- Priests will only be able to visit the sick in hospitals when arrangements for this are permitted by the relevant hospital or health authority.
- Funeral arrangements should be made by clergy in collaboration with the Funeral Directors appointed by the family of the deceased. Please note that the latest Government guidance states that ‘Funerals can be attended by a maximum of 30 people. Social distancing should be maintained between people who do not live together or share a support bubble’. The latest CBCEW Guidance on Funerals (published 02/10/2020) may be viewed here.
- Funeral services should not be conducted by priests or deacons over 70 years of age or whose underlying health conditions make them vulnerable to a more severe form of illness.