Churchgoers should wear face coverings and could have to book places at Mass when churches reopen, Scotland’s Catholic Bishops have said.
The Bishop’s Conference of Scotland has sent the country’s 600 priests guidance about the reopening of churches and the resumption of public worship, urging them to “act in harmony” with the Scottish Government’s health advice.
With public worship currently suspended due to the coronavirus lockdown, priests have been encouraged to start preparations to allow churches to safely reopen in accordance with social distancing measures.
The Catholic church’s guidance has been developed by their Covid-19 infection control working group, chaired by Scotland’s former chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns.
In line with the Scottish Government’s “route map” for easing lockdown, the guidance stresses that Mass can resume once the country enters phase three, with the recommendation to have services on both Saturdays and Sundays to allow more people to attend.
Priests are being asked to measure the church in two-square-metre areas to estimate how many people can safely attend services, but are reminded they should only open if there is enough trained volunteers and PPE available.
In parishes where demand for places exceeds the restricted capacity of the church, the advice suggests “it may be advisable to introduce a booking system for places at Mass, either online or by phone”.
Further guidance includes requiring all churchgoers and clergy to wear face coverings, use hand sanitiser when entering and leaving.
Liturgical guidelines for Mass states that holy communion should be placed in a person’s hand, rather than their mouth, hymns may be omitted and suggests “the sermon should be brief”.
The letter from the eight Scottish Bishops to priests accompanying the guidance says: “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.
“It is important that we act together as the Catholic Church in Scotland, in step with one another, and clear about what is legitimate and prudent at each stage of the process.”
It adds: “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.
“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.”
The Bishops conclude with encouragement to the Catholic community “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’,” from the book of Matthew.
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