London, England, Nov 19, 2021 / 13:00 pm (CNA).
The bishops of England and Wales urged Catholics on Friday to renew their commitment to Sunday Mass, but acknowledged that the pandemic still posed obstacles to regular church attendance.
In a statement approved at their fall plenary assembly in the northern English city of Leeds, the bishops appeared to stop short of restoring the Sunday obligation, which was removed when the pandemic broke out in March 2020.
“The pandemic is clearly not over. The risk of infection is still present. For some, there is legitimate fear in gathering together,” they said.
“As your bishops, we recognize that these prevailing circumstances suggest that not everyone is yet in the position to fulfill the absolute duty to attend freely Sunday Mass.”
The Sunday obligation is one of the Precepts of the Church that all Catholics are required to fulfill. Deliberate failure to observe the obligation is considered a mortal sin requiring confession.
The bishops had expressed hope in July that Sunday obligation could be restored by the First Sunday of Advent, which falls on Nov. 28.
“It is hoped that it will be possible for all Catholics in England and Wales to fulfill this most important Church precept, that of the Sunday obligation, by the First Sunday in Advent 2021,” they wrote.
But with days to go before the start of Advent, Europe is seeing a surge in coronavirus cases, with Austria becoming the first European country to re-impose a nationwide lockdown since spring.
While the situation in the U.K. is currently less severe, the country of 67 million people has recorded more than 9.7 million COVID-19 infections and almost 144,000 related deaths as of Nov. 19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The bishops of England and Wales asked parishes in April to reach out to people who have discovered Catholicism for the first time amid the pandemic.
In a message entitled “The Day of the Lord,” they urged Catholic communities to pay special attention to the group they called the “COVID curious,” who had encountered the Church online during the pandemic.
In their latest message, the English and Welsh bishops stressed the importance of honoring Sunday.
“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,” they said.
“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.”
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