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Scotland's Catholics must attend Mass in person from January say Bishops

by Donna Birrell

From January, Catholics in Scotland will be obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. 

The requirement was dispensed with at the beginning of the pandemic and although churches opened and communal worship has since resumed, attendance hasn’t been obligatory. 

However, Scotland's Catholic Bishops have written a Pastoral letter saying attendance in person is now necessary and online worship doesn't fulfil the obligation. The requirement doesn't apply to anyone who is ill or who has special care needs.   

The letter will be read at all Masses in Scotland this weekend.

Bishop John Keenan tells Premier why the decision has been taken.

“It’s the next natural step in what's been for all of us a long journey. In the last 18 months we have gone from lockdown to opening up with 20 people in each church and putting infection control protocols in place and as the Scottish Government has relaxed across the country, we've opened up in tandem with that.

“It’s not been an easy decision to make. We have been fortunate that we had set up an infection control working group, and the chair of that was the former chief medical officer for Scotland, and that group has been advising us. We think as society begins to open up and get back to something which has routine, our people want that as well.”

Bishop John says that at the moment about 65 percent of Catholic congregations have returned to in-person worship in Scotland. He expects that to increase by around 10 percent when the obligation is reinstated. 

“It’s a small incremental step, but I think people are especially faithful who attend mass. As they’ve seen the infection control protocols in place, I think they're keen to take up their roles. I think it’s the Laity who are the readers, the servers, the choir, the musicians who are especially keen to see those things beginning to come back on stream. We’re looking to move into something more routine and more settled going forward.”

Asked about the exceptions to the obligation, Bishop John said :

“These are prudential judgments. I think we're probably trying to strike a balance, but we are really emphasising if you feel the exception applies to you, then don't have too much of a conscience about it. Those exceptions will be if you have an underlying condition, if you're caring for someone who has an underlying condition, then don't feel as though you're obliged to come back and take your time to come back.”

The decision comes amid concerns over the new Omicron strain of Coronavirus, first discovered in South Africa. This week, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no immediate need to revisit the recent decision not to extend the vaccine passport scheme, but she said Scotland and other parts of the UK had taken "highly precautionary" actions on isolation for people arriving in Scotland from certain countries. She has also urged people to take a coronavirus test before any social occasion.

Bishop John says the Catholic Church’s new instruction isn’t at risk of contradicting the Scottish government’s policies.   

“No, I would have thought so at all, the Scottish Government haven't given any indication that that's the case. I think the Scottish government recognises that worship isn't a leisure or a social event. It's something much more than that, worship is something which is owed to God.” 

The obligation to attend Mass in Scotland will begin on Sunday 2nd January 2022. 


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