Archdiocese of Southwark Pastoral Letter
Concerning the Measures to be put in place Regarding Public Worship and the Celebration of the Sacraments in Relation to the COVID-19 (Coronavius) Pandemic
‘Our help in is the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.’

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ
I wanted to write to you personally as we face the threats posed locally, nationally, and internationally by the COVID-19 Coronavirus. For so many people, including those in our parish and school communities, this situation brings uncertainty and fear. It has the capacity to bring out both the best and the worst of our human nature. Working together, in the strength of God’s grace, we must seek to ensure that the very best of our common humanity triumphs, especially for the health and well-being of the weakest, the poorest, and the most vulnerable.
The Lord Jesus commanded us to love one another and to serve after His example. (Jn 13: 12-15; 13:34) Now is the time for our love to be displayed more deeply and our service to find heightened expression. Our calling as disciples is to be salt and light to the world (Mt 5:13-16) in witness to the Gospel of Christ.

Few of us will have witnessed circumstances such as those we are presently experiencing. It is crucial that we take the necessary measures to maximise the welfare of every person and follow the guidance and requirements of our Government and Statutory Agencies.
The Bishops of England and Wales have implemented changes in how we are to practise our faith as we move forward. Details of this can be found on the websites of the Archdiocese of Southwark and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. I ask every member of the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Southwark - clergy, consecrated religious, and laity – to abide by these measures until they are amended or withdrawn. They will be kept under review in the light of expert health and hygiene advice.
A major change is the cessation of public celebrations of the Mass and the dispensation of the Obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. We will, however, endeavour to keep our churches open wherever possible so that those who wish can visit to pray before the Blessed Sacrament.

The imposition of these restrictions has not been taken lightly. As we know, the Mass is the hallmark of Catholic faith and practice. For there to be no public celebrations of the Mass, either on weekdays or Sundays, will be an immeasurable loss to all who cherish their participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. For now, we must draw close to Christ in other ways, taking consolation from the fact that the Mass will continue to be celebrated each day in our parish churches to ‘advance the peace and salvation of all the world.’ (EP III) It will not, however, be possible for the faithful to attend these celebrations.
To continue to mark the significance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, I would encourage all those who are able to read the Scripture readings of the Sunday Mass and to pray the rosary. We can also make a Spiritual Communion which prayerfully expresses our faith in Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Various forms of prayers for making a Spiritual Communion are available in prayer books and on the internet.
Our Catholic faith offers the vital spiritual support we will need to cope with all that will unfold. We can sustain our life of prayer, turning to the Scriptures, the Rosary, to novenas and litanies, using Catholic social media and internet resources to keep connected in the communion of faith. Live-stream celebrations of the Mass and other devotions are available from churches and shrines across the country and around the world. I encourage every Catholic - individuals, couples and families – to create, if there is not one already present, a simple shrine in their home, with a crucifix and religious images, to provide a focus until that blessed day when we are able to gather in our churches once more.
Thank you for everything you are doing to support your parish, school and wider community at this challenging time. Please have a special care and concern for anyone who might struggle. Be Good Samaritans to each other. Support those most in need in the best ways possible. Please shop responsibly and give to charities working with people who are vulnerable and marginalised. Speak to your families and loved ones as often as you can. Keep everyone in your prayers, especially those suffering illness, and all our NHS, emergency and social care staff.
We may be more physically separated at this time, but we remain united spiritually in Christ through the Holy Spirit in a bond of faith that cannot be broken. Our prayers strengthen our relationship with Christ, our unity with Our Blessed Lady and the Communion of Saints, and our connection with each other. No one is forgotten in the prayers of the Church.
I want to assure you of my prayers for you, for your loved ones and for your parish community. We will do our very best to provide support and information through the Archdiocesan website and social media presence. In all that we will face, individually and together, we find our hope in Christ. He is our sure foundation, today, tomorrow, and always.
With every blessing
Yours devotedly in Christ
The Most Reverend John Wilson Archbishop of Southwark
Given at Archbishop’s House, Southwark, 18 March 2020

A letter from the President and Vice-President on behalf of all the Bishops of the Conference

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, so many aspects of our lives must change. This includes the ways in which we publicly express our faith. It is very clear that, following official advice and in order to keep each other safe, save lives and support the NHS, at this time we must not gather for public acts of worship in our churches. This will begin from Friday evening, 20th March 2020, until further notice.
Our churches will remain open. They are not closing. They will be a focal point of prayer, where you will find solace and strength. In visiting our churches at this time, we will observe with great care the practices of hygiene and the guidance on social distancing.
However, the celebration of Mass, Sunday by Sunday and day by day, will take place without a public congregation.
Knowing that the Mass is being celebrated; joining in spiritually in that celebration; watching the live-streaming of the Mass; following its prayers at home; making an act of spiritual communion: this is how we share in the Sacrifice of Christ in these days. These are the ways in which we will sanctify Sunday, and indeed every day.
We want everyone to understand that in these emergency circumstances, and for as long as they last, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is removed. This is, without doubt, the teaching of the Church (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2181). This pandemic is the 'serious reason' why this obligation does not apply at this time.
You will find more details about the pathway of prayer and sacramental life we are now to take in the accompanying document and on the Bishops’ Conference website ( Your own bishop and parish priest will provide further support, encouragement and information about our way of prayer together in the coming weeks.
The second vital aspect of these challenging times is our care for each other. There are so many ways in which we are to do this: being attentive to the needs of our neighbour, especially the elderly and vulnerable; contributing to our local food banks; volunteering for charitable initiatives and organisations; simply keeping in touch by all the means open to us.
During these disturbing and threatening times, the rhythm of the prayer of the Church will continue. Please play your part in it. The effort of daily kindness and mutual support for all will continue and increase. Please play your part in this too. For your commitment to this, we thank you.
'The Lord is my shepherd,
There is nothing I shall want.'
May God bless us all.

Vincent Cardinal Nichols-  President 

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP Vice-President

Loving Creator God,
You always lead your people in ways of loving kindness, even in
times of struggle: turning Exile into Exodus, bringing desert places
into bloom, rekindling hope in broken hearts.
You sent your Son, the Good Shepherd, the pattern of all ministry,
to lay down his life for his flock and so to gather the lost and stray,
leading us home rejoicing into your eternal Kingdom.
We pray for our Bishop (Name), our priests and deacons and all
who have a ministry of leadership in these difficult days. Keep
them safe and well.
Give them the heart of the Shepherd and the smell of the sheep,
with a passionate care for the people entrusted to them and a
deep trust in your goodness.
Give them words to encourage, gestures to soothe, imaginative
ways to keep their scattered flocks as one in faith and hope and
Grant them rest from their labours in these shuttered days.
And in all things give them joy, the joy of the Gospel, and a deep
trust that our road ends not on Good Friday but at the Easter
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord.
© Rob Esdaile, 2020