I am sorry to have to relate to you that, following the Prime Minister’s announcements this evening, further restrictions have been placed upon what is permissible in terms of the Mass. I have received new instructions from the Bishop – these are requirements, not guidance.
I am only allowed to celebrate Mass with just one other person present and with the Church doors locked. That person may not act as a Server. After the Mass, I can unlock the Church so that it is open for private prayer.
All Baptisms and Confirmations are deferred. There are further restrictions on Weddings.
I cannot visit the sick and housebound at home, care homes or hospital (the latter only with the consent and direction of health professionals).
All this is really distressing, but I have no choice, but to comply.
Naturally and rightly I have informed the Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council first.
Below this message from me is a copy of the Bishop’s Letter to you.
O God Almighty, Lord of heaven and earth, and of all creation visible and invisible, in thine ineffable goodness, look down upon us, thy people gathered in thy Holy Name. Be our helper and defender in this day of affliction. Thou knowest our weakness. Thou hearest our cry in repentance and contrition of heart. O Lord who lovest mankind, deliver us from the impending threat of the Corona Virus. Send thine angel to watch over us and protect us. Grant health and recovery to those suffering from this virus. Guide the hands of physicians and preserve those who are healthy. Enable us to continue to serve our suffering brothers and sisters in peace that together we may glorify thy most honourable and majestic name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
I shall be giving thought to what is possible in terms of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament at specific times in order that we can come to church in small groups – whilst sitting six foot apart – to spend time in private prayer; and I am completing a booklet of prayers for the week beginning this coming Sunday, and will be issuing ones for the whole week ahead each Sunday during this time of uncertainty, in order that you can pray in church or at home with some formal structure so that you know that you are engaging in the worship of the Church.
With the assurance of my prayers.
THE BISHOP OF EBBSFLEET
From the Bishop of Ebbsfleet
to all parishes under his oversight
Concerning Public Worship and the Celebration of the Sacraments
in relation to the current international pandemic
20 March 2020
St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord
In three short weeks, here and in many places around the world, life has been radically changed. Our
daily patterns of life and work are being changed to protect the greater good; the institutions and
services of our common life are under unprecedented pressure; and the lives of the world’s most
vulnerable—the elderly, the poor, the homeless and those with health conditions—are threatened.
Little surprise then that the Church should find itself deeply affected, and having no choice but to find
new and untried ways of living through this time and looking to the future.
I am sure that you will all recognize the wisdom of Her Majesty The Queen’s appeal yesterday that as a
society we should come together ‘to work as one’, concentrating our combined efforts, focusing on
our common goal. ‘We all have a vitally important part to play’, she said ‘as individuals.’
Paradoxically, at a time when our individual lives are being pushed apart by the absolute necessity to
maintain universal good hygiene and a safe physical distance from one another, we are discovering that
only acting in a really collaborative way will have the impact that we all need. We are all being taught
by this experience to recalibrate the connections between our individuality and our community,
between being one and being many – whether as people, as families and as nations.
Of all people on earth this should come as least surprise to the disciples of Jesus, whose profound sense
of calling and responsibility as the Son of God was entirely shaped by the love of his Father and the
salvation of his brothers and sisters. So Christians can recognize in our present crisis not just that
human generosity which appears in times of danger and trial, but the reality of what it means to be
human, and to be created in the likeness of God. To be human is to be one and many.
And that should remind us Christians of a second reality: that our life together as Christ’s Body is not for
the sake of ourselves but for the life of the world. If in these coming months the Church has to
experience being forcibly pulled away from the consolations of our routine life and worship—forced
for the first time that any of us can remember, into a kind of collective eucharistic fast—it may be so
that we can rediscover the mission God has given us: to be real witnesses in this world—currently so
fearful and anxious—of the joy and peace of the world to come, God’s kingdom.
Plainly none of this will happen if we do not use the time that we now have on our hands to learn
afresh how to pray. Not just prayers for all the different ways in which people are caught up in the
present crisis; but prayers that turn our hearts toward God. The Psalms frequently exhort us to
praise God’s mighty power and his loving intimacy. We may have to be physically distant
from one another, but God is not distant. ‘He is’, says St Augustine, ‘nearer to us than our
innermost parts’. (Confessions 3.6.11)
In recent days, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the bishops, have
implemented changes in how we must practice our faith for the coming months. I too have
written to all the clergy of parishes under my oversight setting out the necessary changes that
need to take effect in the pastoral and liturgical ministries we share. Your parish priest can provide
you with copies of the archbishops’ letter and mine. I ask every worshipper to embrace these
arrangements. They will be kept under review in the light of expert health and hygiene advice.
Of course the most dramatic change is the suspension of all public acts of worship, and thus
the lack of access to celebrations of the Eucharist. All clergy and lay officers will however
strive to keep our churches open wherever possible so that, especially on Sunday mornings, those who
wish to can visit to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. I do not underestimate what a loss this will be
to you all. Nonetheless the clergy have been encouraged to celebrate the Eucharist and to pray
Morning and Evening Prayer, in church without a congregation. Some churches will make
arrangements for live-streaming of these acts of worship to support the laity: I hope to do so myself.
But above all I encourage you to keep Sunday carefully as the Lord’s Day, to read slowly and
prayerfully the readings for that day’s Mass; to pray the Rosary, the Litany, the Jesus Prayer; to
prepare in your home a shrine or prayer station, with a crucifix and images of the Lord and the saints;
and to expressing to the Lord in prayer your desire to receive Holy Communion even while you can’t;
desiring to be united to him, and filled with his Holy Spirit. It will be a blessed and joyful day, when
we can assemble again to celebrate Mass together!
Thank you for everything you will do to support your parish, and its wider community in the coming
months. Please show a special care and concern for anyone who might struggle. And do not be afraid
to ask for prayerful support yourself. Shop responsibly; be generous to charities helping the most
vulnerable; encourage your families as often as you can with words of faith and hope; pray for those
afflicted by the virus; and those who risk their lives to help them.
Two prayers for you to use at home before Passiontide begins:
Almighty God, it is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power, and by your
outstretched arm. Nothing is beyond your power. We turn to you in our need, to ask your
protection against coronavirus which has claimed lives and affected many. We pray for those afflicted.
May they soon be restored to health. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, mercifully look upon our infirmities, and in all our dangers and
necessities stretch forth your right hand to help and defend us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Collect for the Third Sunday after Epiphany
With love and every blessing:
The Right Reverend Jonathan Goodall