The obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days will not be restored in time for Christmas because of the continuing threat from COVID-19.
The bishops of England and Wales wanted to bring back the obligation by the First Sunday of Advent but have conceded that the pandemic meant it was still too dangerous to expect vulnerable people to go to church.
Canon Christopher Thomas, the general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the prevalence of the virus and the potentially deadly risk of infection meant that many people were still not free to attend Mass.
It means that this year there will be no obligation for Catholics to go to church either during Advent or on Christmas Day.
When asked at a London press conference (pictured) if it would be a sin not to attend Mass on the Nativity of the Lord, he replied: “No.”
The bishops are encouraging people who are not vulnerable to make going to Mass a higher priority on Sundays than “sports or shopping”, however.
“The Sunday Eucharist is a gift,” the bishops said in a statement called “Honouring Sunday” at the end of their autumn plenary meeting in Leeds, the first they have attended in person since the pandemic that has killed 144,000 people in the UK.
“As God’s holy people we are called to praise and thank God in the most sublime way possible,” they said.
“When the Church speaks of the Sunday obligation, it reminds us that attending Mass is a personal response to the selfless offering of Christ’s love.
“At this time, we recognise that for some people there may be certain factors which hinder attendance at Sunday Mass,” they continued.
“The pandemic is clearly not over. The risk of infection is still present. For some, there is legitimate fear in gathering together.
“As your bishops, we recognise that these prevailing circumstances suggest that not everyone is yet in the position to fulfil the absolute duty to attend freely Sunday Mass.”
“We now encourage all Catholics to look again at the patterns which they have formed in recent months with regard to going to Mass on Sundays,” the bishops added.
“This would include consideration and reflection about what we might do on Sundays, such as sports or shopping, or other leisure and social activities.
“This review, and the decisions which arise from it, fall to every Catholic and we trust this will be done with honesty, motivated by a real love for the Lord whom we encounter in the Mass.”
From the early days of the pandemic many churches and cathedral in the UK have broadcast live Masses over the internet, and such live-streaming permitted many people to practise their faith differently, including by making acts of “spiritual communion”.
The bishops said they wanted to make a statement about the importance of Sunday Mass as people “begin returning to more regular patterns of parish life”.
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