The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales has published Covid-19 Route Map: Step 4 Guidance. The scope of the guidance is summarized in the Introduction. In addition, on 15 July 2021 the Conference also published Sunday – It is our Day in which the Bishops expressed the hope “that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfil this most important Church precept, that of the Sunday Obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021”.
Covid-19 Route Map: Step 4 Guidance
This Guidance is offered to the Dioceses of England and Wales as the country moves into Step 4 (19th July) of the Government Covid-19 Response Roadmap published in February 2021. This date has been delayed by 5 weeks as the Government wanted to ensure that a greater proportion of the public had received the vaccine before moving to this point.
It is important to reiterate that as Step 4 is reached, the general principles of continuing to create a safe environment in places of worship and their ancillary buildings are not abandoned. Indeed, the way forward must be a collective endeavour of all involved in the daily life of the Church in England and Wales. Recognition of the presence of the virus in the population means that certain preventative practices will still be required, and this is important to ensure that Diocesan trustees are seen to be discharging their Health and Safety duties.
The Health and Safety Executive have issued new guidance for employers and for organisations, and this makes clear that a duty to keep premises safe continues beyond the removal of any covid-19 legislation.1 Indeed, the Government has stated that changes moving forward would be on a risk-based approach for all organisations with the responsibility to ensure appropriate measures to safeguard public health sitting with the management of the organisation.
Although any measures adopted locally will not have the ‘rule of law’, there is a strong emphasis on common sense and risk-averse activities to continue to mitigate against the transmission of the virus which is still prevalent in society.”
This is followed by section General Principles, which, importantly begins with the need to consider Prevailing Local Conditions , followed by stressing the importance of Mitigations [2[, Social Distancing and Capacity of Churches , and Congregational Singing . Some general housekeeping issues are covered in a section on Acts of Worship, followed by more detail on the Celebration of Holy Mass. Significantly, this recommends inter alia that Holy Water stoups are not refilled; the physical Sign of Peace remains suspended; Holy Communion continues to be under one kind; but Concelebration is permitted and Holy Communion by the concelebrants should be by intinction.
The document also covers the “occasional offices” and pastoral issues.
Sunday – It is our Day
Statement from the Catholic Bishops of England
On 19 July, the current legislative powers which assist the mitigations against the Covid-19 virus transmission will be rescinded by HM Government. Nevertheless, there will be an encouragement to personal and corporate responsibility in this area; as the Prime Minister said in his most recent statement “The pandemic is not over.” Even without this legislation in place, the Church in England and Wales will be adopting a cautious approach to capacity and activity within our buildings, especially at corporate acts of worship.
We are mindful of the certain fact that the Covid-19 virus is still circulating in society. Vaccines provide genuine protection against the worst effects of the virus, yet we recognise the legitimate fear on the part of some who otherwise desire to gather for Holy Mass. It is our continuing judgement, therefore, that it is not possible at the present time for all of the faithful to attend Mass on a Sunday thus fulfilling their duty to God.
It is hoped that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfil this most important Church precept, that of the Sunday Obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021.
In the meantime, all Catholics are asked to do their best to participate in the celebration of the weekly Sunday Mass and to reflect deeply on the centrality of Sunday worship in the life of the Church.”
[Emphasis in original]
In his comments on the Step 4 Guidance, below, Gethin Rhys stresses:
“Although this guidance is offered to “the dioceses of England and Wales”, Catholic (and all other) churches in Wales should note that there is no equivalent of Step 4 happening in Wales on July 19th and the regulations on face coverings, 2m distancing etc continue in force in Wales until at least August 7th (and face coverings at least for a while longer than that).
In fairness, the document does refer at some points to differences between England and Wales, but not at others. The principles it enunciates will doubtless become relevant in Wales also on August 7th or later, but churches in Wales need to take special care to understand the differences in the mean time.”
[With thanks to Kristian Paver for the alert and Gethin Rhys for his clarification.]