Public liturgies were suspended in England March 20 and churches closed a few days later. Bishops in the country have faced mounting calls from Catholics to reopen churches and allow congregations at Masses while respecting social distancing rules.
A video by lay Catholics appealing for churches to be reopened has been viewed more than 3,000 times since it was posted April 22. A spokesman for the English and Welsh responded to the appeal April 23, acknowledging that the absence of sacraments was a “heavy deprivation.”
“The feelings and desires that are expressed in this video are completely understandable,” the spokesman said, according to the U.K. Catholic Herald.
“However there are other factors that need to be considered: we have a moral duty to protect life; we have a duty to heed the best professional advice about the dangers of this virus which is invisible and deadly; we have to be sure that whatever steps we may take – and some are proposed in the video – are well thought through, receive formal approval and are deliverable in every situation.”
The Mass at Westminster Cathedral was the first in a series of Thursday evening Masses that will be celebrated by bishops in cathedrals across England.
The Masses are on Thursdays because that is the day when people stand outside their homes and applaud workers in the National Health Service, the U.K.’s publicly funded healthcare system. The Masses begin at 7 p.m., ending in time for the “Clap for our Carers” at 8 p.m.
In his homily, the cardinal noted that health workers are heirs to a “great and noble” tradition.
“It’s a tradition that bears the hallmark of the Christian faith,” he said. “Its characteristics of self-sacrifice and courage and its commitment to caring for all, especially for the poorest, sprang from the determination to follow the teachings of Christ who said that he is to be found, and served, especially in the poorest, the most needy and those least able to help themselves.”
The cardinal recalled the history of the Church in shaping modern attitudes to charity and love for one’s neighbor.
“Care and assistance for the poor, sick and dying was very restricted throughout the Roman world, which is the Europe and Middle East of today, until the disciples of Jesus began to provide it,” he said. “The poor were simply left to their fate. But the vision of Christianity altered that. To serve the poor and the sick was to serve the Lord himself. And slowly that conviction became expressed in institutions.”
The cardinal continued: “We know of St Basil the Great who led the way in the 4th century, building centers for the care of the poor and the sick, as did Fabiola, a noblewoman in Rome who, at that same time, made similar foundations.”
“We remember, too, the hospital of St Bartholomew which has stood on the Tiber Island in Rome for over 1,200 years and led to the followers of St Augustine of Hippo founding London’s oldest hospital, St Bartholomew’s Hospital -- or Barts, as it is known -- in the 12th century, followed closely by St Thomas’s.”
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Nichols urged those following online to pray to St. George, patron of England, whose feast is celebrated April 23, as well as St. Luke, patron of doctors, Sts. Cosmas and Damian, patron saints of pharmacy and medicine, and St. Agatha and St. John of God, patron saints of nurses.
He petitioned the saints to “pray for us now in our hour of need and with us beg of the Lord a time of healing and new strength.”
More than 139,000 people have contracted the coronavirus in the U.K. and more than 18,700 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.