Bishops of England and Wales to UK Faithful: As COVID-19 Weakens, It Is Time for Catholics to Return to Mass

The Sunday Mass obligation is now reinstated.

Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales gather for their Spring Plenary Assembly in Cardiff, Wales, on May 5.
Members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales gather for their Spring Plenary Assembly in Cardiff, Wales, on May 5. (photo: Mazur/ via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) / via CNA)

Catholics in England and Wales should come back to Mass now that the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic have receded, the countries’ bishops have said as they announce the reinstatement of the Sunday Mass obligation.

“Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, until the present time, we have shared with you our judgment that the situation of the last two years has meant that the Sunday Obligation has been impeded,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said May 6. “We thank God that this situation has now changed.”

The pandemic’s challenges have significantly lessened, and most people have resumed normal activities, the bishops said.

“We therefore believe that the reasons which have prevented Catholics from attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation no longer apply,” they said in a resolution passed at their spring plenary meeting.

The bishops said attendance at Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation is “the greatest of all privileges.”

“A beautiful hallmark of the Catholic faith is the profound desire to participate in the Holy Mass and share in the Eucharist. We do so with deep gratitude and joy,” they said. The Eucharist “enables us to worship Almighty God, to support each other on our journey of faith, and to be a visible sign of faith in the world.”

Opening the bishops’ message was a quotation of Christ's words from the Gospel of John: “This is the bread come down from heaven.”

“In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, the Lord Jesus entrusted to us the precious gift of Himself,” the bishops continued. “With humility, we glory in being a Eucharistic people for whom attendance at Mass is essential. Looking forward to the forthcoming feast of Pentecost, we now invite all Catholics who have not yet done so to return to attending Mass in person.”

“We are grateful to our clergy, religious and lay faithful who have served our parishes, schools and communities with dedication and distinction throughout this pandemic,” they said. “Now we look forward with renewed faith and confidence.”

Across the U.K., there have been about 176,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Reuters reports. Some 850,000 people have been hospitalized. The mortality rate was highest among the elderly and disabled.

Widespread vaccination has helped to blunt the dangers of severe infection.

People with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems face increased vulnerability, which the Catholic bishops acknowledged. Across the U.K.’s 67 million people, about 600,000 people are severely immunosuppressed, the BBC News reports.

“We understand there will still be some members of our congregations who, for reasons of health, do not feel safe enough to return to Mass,” said the bishops’ message. “It has always been the understanding of the Church that when the freedom of any Catholic to attend Mass in person is impeded for a serious reason, because of situations such as ill health, care for the sick or legitimate fear, this is not a breach of the Sunday Obligation.”

While the online streaming of Catholic services has helped benefit the faithful, the bishops said, online viewing of Mass does not fulfill a Catholic’s Sunday obligation.

“It may, however, be a source of continual spiritual comfort to those who cannot attend Mass in person, for example those who are elderly and sick, for whom the obligation does not apply,” they said. “In this context, we recognize gratefully the ministry of those who administer Holy Communion to the elderly, sick and housebound.”

Across the U.K., the number of COVID-19 infections is down from the start of the year but continued to remain high. Some 1.9 million people are believed to have been infected the week ending April 30, though this was a decline of 900,000 from the week before.

The U.K. suffered about 264 deaths per 100,000 COVID-19 infections. By comparison, the U.S. suffered 300 deaths per 100,000 infections, according to The New York Times.

‘Empty Pew’

Is It Always a Grave Sin to Skip Sunday Mass?

DIFFICULT MORAL QUESTIONS: ‘The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.’ (CCC 2181)