The reopening of places of worship for private prayer is a sign that life is returning to “something like normality”, a clergyman has said.
Places of worship came under step three of the Government’s road map to lift restrictions, and while many will open on Monday for private prayer, a full reopening with services is not expected to take place until at least July 4.
Among those opening up is Westminster Cathedral in central London, where the holy water font at the door will be empty and parishioners will swap the customary holy water blessing for hand sanitiser.
The cathedral, an important church for Catholics in the UK, will open for around four hours each day and a maximum of 80 people will be allowed into the 1,300-capacity building at any one time.
Fr Daniel Humphreys, a priest at the cathedral, said the opening for private prayer is welcome as he has often seen people praying outside the locked doors during lockdown.
He told the PA news agency: “We can all pray at home, we can pray on the Underground or whatever, but churches as houses of prayer, as places of pilgrimage if you like, are very important to Catholics, to all people of Christian faith.
“People will have been missing just the opportunity to light a candle, to sit quietly and pray, even of course to meet friends as well, although that won’t be so possible now.
“If you put it in a wider context, in a way outside of faith, isn’t it, I think, a sign that things are beginning to loosen if you like, to return to something like normality?”
He added: “For Catholics, going to the church, yes of course for the mass, but also just to pop into the church, is a vital part of life and of their spiritual life.”
Fr Daniel said it will be very different to just “wandering into church”, with measures in place including restricted numbers, sanitiser, a one-way system, rows of seats cordoned off with “relatively tasteful tape” and the touching of statues “off limits”.
Meanwhile, the Church of England, which is allowing funeral services in church buildings from Monday, said singing should be allowed in churches as soon as it is considered safe.
Current Government guidance says singing and playing instruments – with the exception of the church organ – should be avoided, as officials continue to review scientific and medical advice around how those activities can be managed safely.
Last month, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick referred to the particular problem of exhalation spreading droplets further during the singing of hymns.