Catholic bishops from England and Wales issued a statement urging the faithful to return to Mass now that COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
During the lockdown brought on by the global pandemic, many Catholics in the United Kingdom, as elsewhere around the world, watched live-streamed Masses when they were not allowed to attend Mass in person.
The Sunday Eucharist is a gift
Now that Masses are open to the public, many Catholics seem to be staying home, or at least spending their Sundays in other ways. In their statement, the bishops reminded the faithful of the importance of participating in in the sacraments in person, and of the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays.
Calling the Sunday Eucharist a “gift,” the bishops wrote, “As God’s holy people we are called to praise and thank God in the most sublime way possible. When the Church speaks of the Sunday obligation, it reminds us that attending Mass is a personal response to the selfless offering of Christ’s love.
Sundays spent in “sports and shopping”
The statement asked Catholics to think about whether they’ve substituted leisure activities for church:
“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.”
“The Sunday Mass is the very heartbeat of the Church and of our personal life of faith. We gather on the ‘first day of the week,’ and devote ourselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
“The Eucharist sustains us and spurs us on, renewing our gratitude and our hope. When we say “Amen” to Christ in receiving his Body and Blood, we express the love of God which is deep within us, and at the end of Mass, when we are sent forth, we express our love for our neighbour, especially those in need. These two dimensions reveal the full meaning of our faith. We are gathered together and sent out, we pray and are fed, we worship and we adore; these are intrinsic to our lives as those baptized into Christ,” wrote the bishops.
In the statement, the bishops acknowledged that, while restrictions have been lifted, the risk of infection may still be present, and not everyone can safely return to Mass.
Mass attendance on the decline before the pandemic
The number of Catholics fulfilling their Sunday Obligation started decreasing well before the pandemic hit. According to a study conducted by Latin Mass Society, weekly Mass attendance fell by nearly a third (30.7%) between 1993 and 2010, as compared to corresponding falls of 10.9% in the Catholic population and 9.4% in the number of priests over the same period.