From 5th November, it will be illegal to gather for communal worship in England. The Government has decreed that church buildings may open for private prayer, but not for praying with others. There shall be no preaching or teaching, and no singing of psalms, hymns or spiritual songs. If you make a joyful noise unto the Lord, you will be fined.
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales have objected to the banning of the Mass:
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 here. 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
Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP
Questions may be asked in Parliament, but nothing will change. You can’t permit communal worship in churches without permitting it also in mosques, mandirs, gurdwaras and synagogues. And Diwali begins on 14th November, which is like a five-day Christmas for Hindus and Sikhs especially, with much feasting and singing and dancing with parades and fireworks. You can’t ban the worship of Lakshmi while permitting the Sacrifice of the Mass: religious discrimination is illegal.
But banning communal worship is also illegal under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Welsh ministers pointed this out to the Welsh Government when the closed their churches:
The principle of Church autonomy is zealously protected in ECHR jurisprudence under Article 9 (see Metropolitan Church of Bessarabia v. Moldova, no. 45701/99, ECHR Reports 2001-XII, 13 December 2001, § 118). A public authority may not interfere with the internal workings of a church or religious organisation and may not impose rigid conditions on the practice or functioning of religious beliefs. See further: Serif v. Greece, No. 38178/97, Reports 1999-IX, 14 December 1999, §§ 51-53; Manoussakis v. Greece, No. 18748/91, Reports 1996-IV, 26 September 2000, § 82. So strong is this principle that it has been upheld three times by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights. ECHR, Hasan and Chaush v. Bulgaria [GC], No. 30985/96, Reports 2000-XI, 26 October 2000, § 82; ECHR, Case of Fernandez Martinez v. Spain [GC[, No. 56030/07, Judgment of 12 June 2014; ECHR, Case of Sindicatul “Pastorul Cel Bun” v. Romania [GC], No. 2330/09, Judgment of 9 July 2013. Most recently the Court again upheld the same principle regarding respect for the internal workings of religious organizations in a judgment against Hungary. ECHR, Case of Karoly Nagy v. Hungary, No. 56665/09, Judgment of 1 December 2015.
They note that “Article 15 ECHR gives member-states a right to derogate from the Convention in the event of a national emergency”, and the Government no doubt considers the coronavirus pandemic to constitute such an emergency, which is why Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Archbishop Malcolm McMahon have asked to see the evidence: “..the Government has a profound responsibility to show why it has taken particular decisions”; “..require the Government to publish the data that drives the decision to cease public worship under these restrictions”.
So let us see the compelling scientific evidence than banning communal worship will benefit public health.
And let us know why churches must be closed to communal worship, but may open for “essential voluntary and public services, such as blood donation or food banks”.
Is the blood of Christ, our communion sacrament, not essential to salvation?
Man shall not live by pasta and tomatoes alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.