Priests across the country have received guidance from the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference on the resumption of public Masses.
The guidelines have already generated much discussion, particularly on controversial matters such as Communion in the hand and congregational singing, but the Catholic Herald understands that it is up to local bishops how to implement them.
Individual dioceses will therefore be publishing their own guidelines for their clergy, meaning certain practices could vary across the country.
The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has also published more general guidelines aimed at all faiths.
Which dioceses have issued guidance?
So far, the Catholic Herald has only been made aware of guidance from the Diocese of Portsmouth. Other dioceses will be issuing guidance over the next few days.
How many people are allowed at Mass?
According to the MHCLG, more than 30 people are allowed at Mass, provided the church is able to accommodate them while observing social distancing. The 30-person limit still applies to weddings, funerals and baptisms, however.
The bishops’ conference guidelines ask churches to observe 2m social distancing requirements. However, if this is not possible, they can observe 1m distancing, but the congregation will have to wear face coverings.
What about people who are over 70 or classified as ‘at risk’
The Sunday obligation remains suspended, and those people in the above groups are advised to stay home and continue following Mass via livestreaming.
Priests who are in either of the above groups can still choose to celebrate public Mass “but it is strongly advised that they do not distribute Holy Communion and take particular care to be constantly socially distant from the congregation.” They are also encouraged to return to the sacristy immediately after finishing Mass.
Is music allowed?
Congregational singing is strongly discouraged in all guidelines, however singing by a cantor may be permissible. The Diocese of Portsmouth allows for “cantors and organ only” in terms of music. The MHCLG also warns against shouting and loud responses from the congregation.
What about the sign of peace?
The sign of peace is suspended.
What does the guidance say on Communion?
The guidelines issued by the General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference call for Communion to be received under one kind “silently in the hand only, with the communicant standing, and avoiding any physical contact.” This would effectively involve the priest or extraordinary minister dropping the Host into the recipient’s hand.
The guidance from the Diocese of Portsmouth, however, does permit Catholics to receive Communion on the tongue, however those who wish to do so should “receive last and be encouraged to avoid physical contact (eg. By kneeling/opening their mouths).”
The diocese also says that only priests should distribute Communion.