In light of the government's advice asking for social distancing and reducing the number of public gatherings, the following letter was issued on 18th March by the President and Vice-President, on behalf of all the Bishops of the Conference.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
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. It is 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, 20th March 2020, until further notice.
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.
Knowing that the Mass is being celebrated; joining in spiritually in that celebration; watching the live-streaming of the Mass; following its prayers at home; making an act of spiritual communion: this is how we share in the Sacrifice of Christ in these days. These are the ways in which we will sanctify Sunday, and indeed every day.
We want everyone to understand that in these emergency circumstances, and for as long as they last, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is removed. This is, without doubt, the teaching of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2181). This pandemic is the 'serious reason' why this obligation does not apply at this time.
You will find more details about the pathway of prayer and sacramental life we are now to take in the accompanying document and on the Bishops’ Conference website. Your own bishop and parish priest will provide further support, encouragement and information about our way of prayer together in the coming weeks.
The second vital aspect of these challenging times is our care for each other. There are so many ways in which we are to do this: being attentive to the needs of our neighbour, especially the elderly and vulnerable; contributing to our local food banks; volunteering for charitable initiatives and organisations; simply keeping in touch by all the means open to us.
During these disturbing and threatening times, the rhythm of the prayer of the Church will continue. Please play your part in it. The effort of daily kindness and mutual support for all will continue and increase. Please play your part in this too. For your commitment to this, we thank you.
'The Lord is my shepherd,
There is nothing I shall want.'
May God bless us all.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols
President of the Bishops' Conference
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon
Vice-President of the Bishops' Conference
A signed version of the Cardinal's message on public worship during the COVID-19 pandemic can be watched here.