Bishops urge Catholics to put church above sport and shopping

Catholics are being urged to return to mass in person after months of worship being largely conducted online.

Bishops in England and Wales took the unusual step of issuing a statement reminding the faithful of the “importance of honouring Sunday”.

They said: “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.

“This would include consideration and reflection about what we might do on Sundays, such as sports or shopping, or other leisure and social activities.”

Some faith leaders are concerned that restrictions as a result of the Covid pandemic may have broken worship habits among their congregations. Nearly all the biggest faiths in the UK have offered online services and prayer sessions since March 2020 when places of worship were closed.

The enthusiasm for virtual worship surprised many faith leaders. Since restrictions on in-person worship were eased and eventually lifted, a significant proportion of congregations have opted to continue practising their faith online.

For some, continued anxieties about Covid transmission have been a key factor in staying away from places of worship. Others who are at home because of illness, disability or caring responsibilities have found a way of sharing in collective worship previously denied to them.

But some have simply found online worship more convenient, and the bishops’ statement suggests concern that a number of Catholics may have discovered alternative ways of spending Sundays.

A key part of Roman Catholic teaching is that the faithful must physically receive the sacraments from a priest. But during the Covid crisis, Pope Francis has urged people to celebrate a “spiritual communion”.

The bishops’ statement, issued at the end of a meeting in Leeds, said Sunday mass was “the very heartbeat of the church and of our personal life of faith” and attending mass was “a personal response to the selfless offering of Christ’s love”.

It added: “We recognise that for some people there may be certain factors that hinder attendance at Sunday mass. 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.”

However, it added: “We now encourage all Catholics to look again at the patterns they have formed in recent months with regard to going to mass on Sundays. 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.”

An international study of the effect of the pandemic on the faith of young people and families published this month found widespread disengagement and disconnection, and that many failed to return to church after lockdowns eased, the Church Times reported.

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