Bishops’ guidance to reopen churches

Archbishop of Glasgow Philip TartagliaArchbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia
Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia
Face coverings should be worn and there will be no hymns when Catholic churches reopen according to guidance issued by the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

Parishioners may be asked to book a place at mass and hand sanitiser should be provided on entry and exit to help prevent coronavirus spreading.

Capacity of some churches may be cut by 80 per cent to enable physical distancing when services are resumed.

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Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia and Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh Leo Cushley, along with their colleagues across Scotland, have written to priests asking that they “act in harmony” with government guidance to ensure the safety of parishioners attending church.

Scotland’s former chief medical officer, Harry Burns, has been assisting the Bishops’ Conference in drafting the guidance as chairman of its Covid-19 Working Group.

Under the Scottish Government’s route map through the crisis, places of worship will be allowed to open for “private prayer under physical distancing rules and hygiene safeguards” from phase two.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon previously stated phase two could be implemented next week if progress in suppressing the virus is continued.

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That would see people being allowed to attend places of worship in small numbers with face coverings.

Confessionals will remain closed as small, enclosed spaces with little ventilation have a greater potential for spreading the virus.

Minimal numbers will be allowed to attend weddings and funerals from phase two, but regular services such as mass would not be expected before phase three.

Priests are being asked to measure the church in 2m areas to estimate how many people can attend, but they should only open if enough trained volunteers and PPE is available.

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Where possible, churches will be expected to provide single points of entry and exit to help reduce crowds building up and services may take place across several days to allow more people to attend as capacity is cut.

There will be at least one empty row of pews between parishioners which may make it necessary to introduce a booking system depending on how many people usually attend.

No paper notices, hymnals or magazines should be available in the church and congregational singing should temporarily be omitted from services as singing greatly increases the chances of spreading the virus.

Further guidance on communion is expected as it may be difficult to distribute with physical distancing in place.

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The letter from Archbishops Tartaglia and Cushley, and Scotland’s six other bishops, to priests reads: “For several weeks now, we have all been living through something we did not expect and for which we had no time to prepare ourselves, no real precedents to guide us, no previous experience to reassure us.

“The Bishops co-operated with the Government’s requirement that was issued in late March to close public places of worship, along with other public spaces and gatherings.

“We did so with heavy hearts, but aware that this was a human and Christian duty in these exceptional circumstances.

“Happily, as the virus abates and restrictions are eased, we can begin to move firmly and sensibly towards the reopening of churches and the resumption of public worship.

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“We look forward eagerly to the day when it will be possible to gather again, without fear, around the altar and celebrate the Holy Eucharist together.

“Our aim is to act in harmony with the guidance of the government and the health authorities, with whom we are in conversation, and to return to our normal liturgical and devotional practice in a safe and phased way.

“Until further notice, the requirement to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of obligation remains suspended.

“We encourage you to remain united in faith, hope and love and to keep responding to our current circumstances with confidence and creativity, assured by the promise of the risen Christ, ‘I am with you always to the end of the world’.”

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