The churches in England reopened for public Mass on the 4th of July after more than three months of closure, during which the faithful were prevented from assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving the Eucharist, which, as the Second Vatican Council states, “is the source and summit of the Christian life.”1
The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) have decided to allow the public celebration of Holy Mass to resume on condition that Holy Communion must be administered on the hand only, whilst the communicant stands.2
The faithful and many priests, are fed up of faithless bishops, bullying and cajoling them to do what’s wrong, and openly defied them by receiving communion on the tongue whilst kneeling, at many Churches including in the diocese of Westminster, on the first weekend of resuming public Mass. The faithful are also fed up of the cowardice of bishops, who shut church doors at a time when the comfort of an open church was needed most.
In doing so the CBCEW went much further than the UK government guidelines. They acted upon the advice of Mr. Jim McManus, whose credentials of acting in an advisory capacity on health matters to the CBCEW are that he’s a member of the Institute of Chartered Psychologists and the co-founder of the Bishops’ Conference Healthcare Reference Group, and has a public health role in a local council. As a result, whilst supermarkets and other ‘essential’ places that often could not impose any adequate social distancing remained open, Churches the size of football fields were closed across the UK.3
Remarkably, the numerous calls from the faithful for Catholic churches to be reopened were met with a callous, insensitive response from the Cardinal Archbishop when, during a fervorino at a Mass offered for healthcare and other frontline workers, he stated that “the calls for churches to be opened may be motivated by self pity.”4
It certainly wasn’t my motivation when I wrote to the Archbishop, and asked his Eminence to request the government that churches would be allowed to re-open, so that front line workers like myself who willingly put our lives at risk for others would find meaning for what we do, and afford a brief respite before the presence of Our Lord in the Tabernacle.
There were plenty of priests willing to match the courage of health care workers, and ensure that whilst doctors and nurses looked after the bodily wellbeing of people, they would look after the wellbeing of souls. I also asked His Eminence if he could offer me the assurance that I would have access to the Sacraments if I were to contract Covid-19 and became unwell to the point of death doing my work as a Doctor in the National Health Service.
Whilst His Eminence assured me that everything possible would be done to make the Sacraments available for the faithful and for front line workers like myself, I found this at odds with the instructions from the CBCEW which suggested that priests are not required to put their lives at risk in bringing Sacraments to the sick.
The Interim Guidance for Engaging in Ministry to the Sick During the COVID-19 Pandemic (CBCEW 1st July 2020) writes that “sacrificial acts of love and charity for the spiritual good of others are to be respected and held in love, we do not advise it, nor is it to be regarded as a required display of the mark or calling of priesthood,”5
In his response to my letter, His Eminence also stressed that “the duty to protect lives is a serious moral obligation, and limiting movement is a key part of that duty.”
When the country began opening up, and many non Christians began calling for their places of worship to be reopened, the Cardinal Archbishop found his voice again and strove to gain plaudits as someone who had always strived for the rights of his flock. However, when public worship finally resumed, His Eminence imposed mandatory communion on the hand whilst standing, trampling the rights of the faithful as enshrined in ecclesiastical law the same rights that he claimed to defend.6
The flock, however, are able to distinguish a true shepherd from a hireling, and are aware of the injustice of forbidding communion on the tongue. Not only are they aware that forbidding communion on the tongue is against ecclesiastical law and thus illegal; they are also aware that in a neighbouring diocese, the Bishop has given advice on how to receive communion on the tongue safely.7
The faithful are also no doubt aware of statements by the President of the Italian Catholic Medical Association Prof. Filippo Maria Bosci8 and a letter written by twenty-one Austrian doctors9, both of which highlight the fact that communion on the hand is by no means safer than communion on the tongue, and in fact can be more dangerous.
As a physician, with many years of research experience in molecular biology, immunology and infectious diseases, I too share the opinion that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that communion on the hand is safer than communion on the tongue. There is a greater risk of self-inoculation from receiving communion on the hand, than if a priest were to deposit the Blessed Sacrament carefully on the communicant’s tongue, taking special care to avoid contact between his fingers and the communicant’s tongue or lips. Moreover, kneeling to receive communion would facilitate this greatly.
Why then continue to insist on a form of reception of communion that has no proven public health benefit? Why else than to further a particular agenda? Perhaps one that aims to blur the boundaries between a protestant communion service and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to foster so-called ecumenism? Is this agenda aimed at banalising piety and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament? Could it be aimed at playing down the reality of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist because it no longer reflects the beliefs of our secular-minded bishops?
The other stringent measures demanded by the Cardinal Archbishop and the CBCEW far surpass any measures suggested by Public Health England for re-opening places of worship. So much so that some churches may remain closed permanently, as it would be impossible to implement these guidelines.
Would that too serve a purpose on the long run, giving the bishops a credible excuse to close down ‘unviable’ parishes? Rather than having to admit that they are being closed due to an absence in vocations caused by the failure of the Catholic hierarchy’s insipid, watered-down presentation of the Catholic faith?
The Covid-19 crisis has in a way, been a welcome gift to the English bishops. It gives them an excuse to enforce mandatory communion on the hand which will surely further erode any remaining belief in the Real Presence. It also gives them an acceptable excuse to begin closing parishes that would have to close in any case due to a vocations crisis.
Furthermore, it undoubtedly offers them the opportunity to present themselves as glorified civil servants who obediently implement the government’s unjust interference in the life of the Church.nPerhaps they should be reminded that the Church is a Divinely established institution that has rights of its own, granted to her by Christ Himself, which no government on earth has the right to meddle with.
It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the English Bishops’ handling of the Covid-19 crisis has been nothing short of disgraceful.
While there has been much talk in recent years of the necessity of priests and bishops being ‘close to the sheep,’ the shepherds shut the barns without hesitation and left the sheep out with the ravaging wolf, starved of nourishment of their souls for months on end. This must never be allowed to happen again.
Adding insult to injury, the Bishops’ guidelines for the hearing of Confessions, which was sent to the clergy in preparation for the resumption of public worship (10) states that “priests should limit the number of confessions they hear each day to reduce their exposure risk.”
Asking priests to turn away penitents in order to protect their health flies in the face of the priestly vocation, which is one of self sacrifice as an alter Christus.
The Church does not need managers! The Church needs Bishops with supernatural faith who encourage their priestly sons to imitate Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd and lay down their lives for their sheep (cf. John 10:11).
1 Vatican II's Constitution Lumen gentium can be accessed here: www.vatican.va.
2 Full guidelines from the CBCEW can be accessed here.
6 www.vatican.va/…/rc_con_ccdds_do…%20IV .
10 Full guidelines from the CBCEW can be accessed here.
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