Statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahonCardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon (Archbishop of Liverpool) issued a statement following the approval of new Regulations on 4 November which enforce national restrictions on movement, association and commerce. The cardinal is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and Archbishop McMahon is Vice-President.

Today, Parliament passed into law the Regulations governing many aspects of activity in the whole of England until Wednesday, 2 December.

These Regulations prohibit the gathering of people for communal worship in churches and other religious buildings.

Churches remain open and in use for activities other than communal worship, including personal prayer and support for those in need.

Funeral Masses and funeral services may be held. Please refer to the Regulations (for places of worship see paragraph 18) and associated Guidance.

Despite profound misgivings it is important that we, as responsible citizens, observe these Regulations, which have the force of law:

“Remind them to be obedient to the officials in authority; to be ready to do good at every opportunity”
Titus 3:1

We do this in solidarity with so many others on whom are being imposed restrictions which impact severely on their lives and livelihoods.

It is also important to recognise that these Regulations are not an attack on religious belief. However, they do demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the essential contribution made by faith communities to the well-being, resilience and health of our society.

At this difficult moment, we ask that, as a Catholic community, we make full use of our churches as places of individual prayer and sources of solace and help.

Daily Prayer

We must sustain each other in our patterns of prayer, joining a national shared moment of prayer each day at 6pm, and observing the Vigil of Christ the King (21 November) as a day of prayer for the ending of this pandemic.

We encourage you all in your practical service and support of each other and those around you in need.

This pathway of prayer and service is the royal road we are to take as a gracious witness in our society today.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols
President

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP
Vice-President

Evening Prayer each day is available from Universalis.
Previous statement (31 October)

It is we who must build Christ’s Kingdom

Fr Thomas’s message about the readings for Mass on the Solemnity of Christ the King (22 November)

Readings for Mass

Inner Narthex, Church of the Holy Saviour, Chora, Istanbul; photo by “fusion-of-horizons” via pxhere.comWhen the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations.

Today’s feast celebrates the absolute sovereignty of God over all of the universe. It was God who first created the universe, bringing it into being out of nothingness in order to have something to love — but something which would always be subjected to his power. We are told how, at the end of time, Christ will come and sit as judge over the whole of human action — over all the nations. This will mark the final coming of his kingdom. But as he speaks of that judgment, he gives criteria which are deeply rooted in our present lives — we should be building his kingdom here on earth right now, rather than simply looking forwards to the end of time.

We can see Christ’s reign at three levels: over the universe, over ourselves, and over our communities. The first is rather out of our hands — God’s ultimate control is there, and will be brought to final fruition in his good time. But when we contemplate the second and the third, we see that we have our own rôles within this rule of Christ.

To allow Christ to reign over our own lives is the first step – indeed, it is the first step of the Christian life. So many times in the Gospels we are told that he is a king, a master; we are told to keep his commandments, and so forth. Those commandments are summarised in the two ‘great’ commandments: to love God completely, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. They are given a set of practical explanations in today’s Gospel — to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and so forth. But at the heart of them all is the simplicity of recognising that our lives come from Christ, and that they belong to him. Of acknowledging that he both knows and loves us all — and therefore his plans for us will be for our own benefit, indeed will be the best possible plans for us.

But it is not only as individuals that Christ wishes to reign. As Catholics we do not, we cannot, accept a view of the world which suggests that we are all atomised individuals who do not have an impact on each other. It is a truth long recognised by philosophy, and taught by faith right back in Genesis, that as humans we live in communities. In these communities too, Christ needs to reign.

We can consider this well be reflecting on the results of not allowing him to reign. Today’s collect puts this well speaking of us all as ‘divided and enslaved by sin’. When we look at so much of the division, the hatred, the suspicion which we experience in the world around us; this flows from that refusal to place Christ at the very heart of our lives and of our communities. If we are to submit to his reign, then this means leaving behind all of the destructive poison of sin and division. This is something which we have to begin in our own lives, but which we should allow to feed into our communities. Allowing that sin to be replaced by the rule of Christ — the ‘kingdom of truth and life; of grace and holiness; of peace; of love; and of righteousness.’

We cannot hope to change our communities unless we are not ready first to change ourselves. Through the grace of God, we can and should establish Christ’s kingdom in our hearts, and then allow it to flow out into the society around us.

Bishops’ Conference Statement on Safeguarding

Arms of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England & Wales
The account given in the IICSA Report of abuse known to be inflicted on children in the Catholic Church in England and Wales in the past 50 years is shocking and overwhelming. At our meeting this week, we Bishops have stood together in profound shame. We express our sorrow and contrition before God.

We have reflected on our need to reach out afresh to those who bear the wounds of permanent damage caused by this abuse. We commit ourselves to listen more intently to those who have been abused so as to learn from them and benefit from their wisdom. It is through learning from their testimony that hearts are changed.

We are grateful to those survivors who have come forward, not only to lay before us their experience of abuse, but to help us understand the depth of their pain. We invite anyone who has experienced abuse to come forward, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. We undertake to listen carefully to them with open heart and mind and support them on a journey of healing.

We have carefully considered the recommendations of the IICSA Report and formally accepted them. We have already begun work towards their implementation.

The IICSA’s generic hearings into the Church began last October. Around that time we commissioned an Independent Review of our Safeguarding Structures and Arrangements in the Catholic Church in England and Wales. This was carried out by Mr Ian Elliott, an experienced safeguarding professional who has worked across the world in this area.

This week, alongside the IICSA Report, we have also examined in depth the Final Report of the Elliott Review and fully accepted its recommendations. It is a searching analysis of our safeguarding work, in its weaknesses and strengths. It proposes a number of remedial and forward-looking recommendations, which accord with the IICSA Report’s own recommendations. The work of implementation will begin immediately. It will be carried out in close cooperation with the Religious Orders who play such an important part in the life of the Church.

In all our activities, our desire and resolve is to be a Church in which every child and vulnerable person is not only safe but nurtured into human flourishing. These recommendations present us with steps towards this goal. Key to them is a standards-based approach to safeguarding together with a specially commissioned national body with powers of effective audit and oversight of safeguarding in both Dioceses and Religious Orders. Everyone in the Church will be required to work to clear, published standards of behaviour and action. Most significantly, the Elliott Report has been fashioned with the participation of survivors of abuse. Their insight and wisdom has been crucial. We thank them for their great courage and generosity in working with us and we look forward to continuing this growing collaboration.

The Elliott Report builds on all that has been achieved in our safeguarding ministry in the past 20 years, achievements also recognised in the IICSA Report. Therefore we thank profoundly all who contribute to the work of safeguarding in the Church today: the thousands of Parish Safeguarding Representatives, the professionals who work in our Safeguarding Offices in every Diocese, the Safeguarding Commissions who oversee this work and give objective and professional advice to guide our decisions, the staff of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service and those who serve on the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission. These, and many others, have contributed greatly to the current work of safeguarding in the Church.

Today, however, we acknowledge without hesitation, our failings, our mistakes, our lack of adequate cooperation. We express our deep sorrow and ask forgiveness, especially from victims and survivors. We affirm our resolve to effect the next step in our work of safeguarding and care for survivors. In prayer we turn to Christ the Good Shepherd, the fount of healing and compassion, asking that this moment of painful truth becomes a time of grace as we strive to fulfil the ministry entrusted to us as bishops in an unshakeable unity of purpose.

On the Bishops’ Conference website
This statement (as a PDF document)
Cardinal Nichols’ personal statement
The Independent Review : Executive Summary (PDF) : Full report (PDF)
IICSA report

The image which accompanies social media notices of this post was provided by pxhere.com and posed by a model.

You have been faithful over a little: I will set you over much

Fr Neil’s message about the readings for Mass on Trinity XXIII (15 November)

Readings for Mass

Parable of the Talents; 19th-century anonymous engravingCome and join in your master’s happiness.

In the gospel parable of the talents our Lord is speaking about the last things with the coming judgement of the risen glorified Christ.

The parable is cautionary in nature — what we have done with the gifts that God has given us will, in part, inform the judgement we receive. Our Lord tells of three people to whom the master has given a number of talents according to their ability: five, two and one.

The first two people in Jesus’ parable grow what was given them and reap the reward. The third man however hides his talent and is thrown into outer darkness where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’. The distinction between the first two men and the last is not so much in what he does with the talent but why he buries the talent given him. The third man tells the master that he sees him as hard, powerful, selfish and a thief: “you reap what you do not sow.”

The third man’s actions are irrational and rooted in fear, despite all evidence to the contrary. The master is God, not some gangland crook! He is generous and gave talents to the three men. It doesn’t say if the coins were gold or silver, but even one silver talent was equal to 15–20 years’ wages! In addition, the reward for the first two men shows God’s desire that all are able to enter into his eternal joy and happiness. Imagine a time of great joy and happiness and multiply it by eternity..! This man’s image of God was distorted and became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Sin distorts our image of God. In Genesis, the Fall turns Adam and Eve from those who walk with God ‘in the cool of the day’ into those who hide in fear. Despite all the evidence to the contrary Adam and Eve, because of sin, give way to irrational fear, burying themselves in an attempt to hide from God.

Far too often today we can fear talking about sin because our view of God’s mercy is distorted and far too limited. We may also avoid proclaiming the truths of our faith and its demand for conversion of life, because we have a warped view of God’s love for us. This is even despite the clearest demonstration of his love and desire revealed to us in every crucifix we gaze upon.

Sin generates fear and fear makes us hide in darkness from God. However, the moment we stop hiding and come into the light of Christ, acknowledging our sin, we move towards God’s merciful love that calls us to share in the master’s happiness and joy for all eternity.

Rejoice and be glad

Fr Thomas’s homily at the Mass on All Saints’ Day

Order of Mass

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, Fra Angelico (c.1395–1455), 1423 Fiesole; National Gallery, LondonWe are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Today’s feast is a yearly reminder that the Saints are not merely ‘them’, not merely people far removed from us, people who lived years ago, who lived lives utterly unlike ours — no, the Saints are supposed to be ‘us’ as well. We are God’s children, in our baptisms we have been adopted by him, and made part of Christ’s body, the Church. We are called to be Saints, called to join him in heaven for all eternity.

When we hear stories of the Saints they can seem extraordinary and so far removed from us that we can surely have no hope of joining them. S. Christina the Astonishing is claimed to have levitated because she couldn’t stand the smell of sin and wanted to escape from it; S. Simeon Stylites lived for nearly 40 years on a tiny platform which he built on top of a pillar, from which he would harangue visitors with sermons; on Tuesday we celebrate S. Winifred who, pursued by a potential suitor, was decapitated in fury when he discovered that she became a nun. Fortunately S. Beuno was on hand who re-attached her head. Leaving aside the potential for stories to grow in the telling, when we hear about the Saints they do often seem to be entirely unlike us and somewhat difficult to relate to. But the message of All Saints’ day is that we are called to become Saints because we are God’s children. We are supposed to be among those that S. John spoke of in saying that he saw a great multitude which no man could number.

The Saints are indeed those who performed staggering works, but they are also those who lived a quiet life seeking to draw closer to God, to leave their sins behind, to serve their neighbours out of a spirit of live for God. Those who allowed God to work in their lives so that when they died they had been fully prepared for heaven — for union with God for all eternity. The vast majority of their names are unknown to us, but they all accepted the offer which God makes: they lived in his grace and allowed him to transform them from fallen and sinful people to redeemed and sanctified people.

All Saints’ Day celebrates all of these people — celebrates that God worked in them, that they were open to his working, that they responded to his call to them. All Saints’ Day celebrates that people who seem in many ways to be entirely ordinary, just like all of us, were able to co-operate with God’s grace and so were able to win that great victory of entering into heaven — where they now sing for ever “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God”.

As it celebrates all of these countless and unnamed thousands, it does something else too — it challenges us. These unknown people who have won the crown of glory which fades not away were so like us in many ways. If they can make this journey to heaven, then surely so can we. This is what God is calling us to. This is what God wants from us. This is what Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection were all about — to give us the possibility of becoming one of them. To give us the chance to wash our robes in the blood of the Lamb, and through that blood to enter heaven.

When we look at ourselves, and then contemplate God, we can quickly see that there is a significant difference between the two. We can rapidly become aware that we are not ready for heaven — it isn’t just that we don’t levitate to get away from the smell of sin, or that the thought of living atop a pillar for decades seems beyond us — we are painfully aware of God’s goodness, and our failings. This is where S. John’s epistle comes in useful — ‘it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him.’ God will give us the graces which we need in order to make the change which is needed within us — he is the one who does the real work, what we need to do is to accept the grace which he offers.

In our Gospel today, Christ speaks of what we need to work on. That list of beatitudes is the proclamation of those who are blessed — and these are not given merely so that we know who is blessed; but so that we can see what qualities we need to develop within ourselves. If we wish to be blessed, if we wish to be among those supremely happy Saints, then we need to become meek, and pure in heart, we need to be peace-makers, and we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Not in our own strength, we would surely fail to get very far if we tried, but in the strength of Christ. We are to become those who have washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb, that blood which is made present at every Mass, and that blood which washes away our sins in confession.

So today we give thanks for all of those Saints who have gone before us, who have accepted God’s arms reached out to them, and through the blood shed by Christ on the Cross, have attained to heavenly glory. We ask for their prayers in all of our needs. And we resolve again to try and follow the same path which they followed — to ask for God’s assistance in becoming as he is, to ask for him to wash our robes in that same blood of the Lamb, so that we too may stand with that countless number praising God in heaven.

Statement from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference

Cardinal Nichols and Archbishop McMahonCardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon (Archbishop of Liverpool) have issued a statement following the Prime Minister’s news conference on 31 October. The cardinal is President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales and Archbishop McMahon is Vice-President.

This evening, the Prime Minister announced further widespread restrictions in England beginning on Thursday 5 November.  The Government have published their New National Restrictions Guidance on their website.  Whilst there was no formal announcement on Places of Worship by the Prime Minister, there is clear guidance on this website that places of worship will be required to end all acts of collective worship, except for funeral ceremonies. In response the following statement is issued by the President and Vice-President of the Bishops’ Conference.

The announcement of a new ‘national lockdown’ in England will, we know, bring hardship, distress and suffering to many.  We must hope and pray that this is an effective strategy against a growing pandemic which has tragically taken so many lives already and threatens so many more.

Faith communities have played a vital role in sustaining personal, spiritual and mental health and encouraging vital charitable activities, which support hundreds of thousands of people in all sections of the community, especially the most vulnerable.  That critical service towards the common good of all is created and sustained by communal worship and prayer.  Part of this selfless giving has been a strong ethic of responsibility in the way in which we have reopened our churches so that essential worship has been enabled.  Our communities have done a great deal to make our churches safe places in which all have been able to gather in supervised and disciplined ways.

It is thus a source of deep anguish now that the Government is requiring, once again, the cessation of public communal worship.  Whilst we understand the many difficult decisions facing the Government, we have not yet seen any evidence whatsoever that would make the banning of communal worship, with all its human costs, a productive part of combatting the virus.  We ask the Government to produce this evidence that justifies the cessation of acts of public worship.

To counter the virus we will, as a society, need to make sustained sacrifices for months to come. In requiring this sacrifice, the Government has a profound responsibility to show why it has taken particular decisions.  Not doing so risks eroding the unity we need as we enter a most difficult period for our country.

The Prime Minister has stated that the draft legislation will be placed before Parliament on Monday 2 November.  Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to discuss the issues and vote on the proposed national restrictions.  In this short timeframe, questions can be raised with our elected Members of Parliament regarding the cessation of public common worship. They are in a position to require the Government to publish the data that drives the decision to cease public worship under these restrictions.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols
President

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP
Vice-President

The MP for Eastbourne is Caroline Ansell, who can be emailed at caroline.ansell.mp@parliament.uk or caroline@carolineansell.co.uk. When emailing, please give sufficient details to identify yourself as a constituent, as MPs are only obliged to deal with their own constituents’ concerns.

Second statement (4 November)