Cardinal: Closing churches is the right thing to do to save lives

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Cardinal Vincent Nichols, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has sent us a message after the Prime Minister’s historic announcement last night (23 March) strengthening restrictions in an attempt to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The Cardinal stresses that we must all play our part to safeguard the NHS and to save ‘precious lives’.

“We’re going to play our full part in it. That was the call of St. Paul that we ought to be good citizens and today we ought to be good citizens playing our part in the protection of the vulnerable, in our support for the NHS and in the preserving of human life, which is so precious to God in the face of this virus.”

Cardinal Nichols also points to the Sunday just gone to demonstrate the strength of the Catholic community’s response and its committment to keeping prayer and worship at the heart of a new pattern of life:

“We’re beginning to reflect on the experience of the streaming of the celebration of Mass on Sunday and on yesterday’s week day. There are many, many encouraging signs. I’ve heard of congregations being 10 times the normal size. I’ve heard of families preparing together at home. Families having their own little children’s liturgy during the reading of the Word…

“…So we have to deepen our prayer. We have to use the Internet, and all the other things that we have, to encourage one another.”

Full Text

This morning, we are all coming to terms with that most remarkable, historic, dramatic announcement of the Prime Minister last night. He made our duty very clear. And it’s a duty which we must all wholeheartedly follow. That is the right thing to do because he wants us to play our part in stopping the spread of this virus – in helping to protect and get the best use of the NHS and therefore save precious lives.

What is clear to me and to my fellow bishops and to the Prime Minister is that we must now close our churches.

It’s not essential for people to travel to go to church in order to pray. We have to learn more and more that our prayer is rooted in our hearts and can be shared with our families. Open churches will only tempt people to travel. And that is not good practice now. So we have to deepen these words of prayer. We have to use the Internet, and all the other things that we have, to encourage one another. When you phone your parents or your parents phone you, why not suggest that you end with a moment of prayer together? Say that Hail Mary, say a prayer that you know – but say it together. It’s a comfort and a reassurance.

The second thing about this morning is we’re beginning to reflect on the experience of the streaming of the celebration of Mass on Sunday and on yesterday’s week day. There are many, many encouraging signs. I’ve heard of congregations being 10 times the normal size. I’ve heard of families preparing together at home. Families having their own little children’s liturgy during the reading of the Word.

Families joining in the singing or providing their own music – if there wasn’t any music in the church itself. In these coming weeks – and there will be many of them – we can strengthen this sense of being part of the celebration of the Mass via the Internet. And of course there is that important act of spiritual communion, when at the same moment, we join with the celebrants of the Mass and all those who are taking part in it online and spiritually receive the Lord into our hearts.

These are challenging times. We’re not looking for loopholes. We’re not trying to find ways round this provision. We’re going to play our full part in it. That was the call of St. Paul that we ought to be good citizens and today we ought to be good citizens playing our part in the protection of the vulnerable, in our support for the NHS and in the preserving of human life, which is so precious to God in the face of this virus.

May God bless you and let’s keep going wholeheartedly together. Thank you.