Closure of churches
As you will know, the Prime Minister yesterday instructed all people to stay at home (except in exceptional circumstances) and to avoid all gatherings of more than two people. As a result of this announcement, and following instructions from the Scottish Government, the Bishops’ Conference reluctantly mandated the closure of all our churches across the country (see attachment 1).
The Bishops encourage all priests to continue to celebrate daily Mass privately, and to keep in touch with their parishioners through the means of modern technology. I attach a document that helps explain how it is possible to harness the internet to transmit Mass to your people and to stay in touch with them in prayer and spiritual solidarity (attachment 2). Please let your parishioners know that you will be celebrating Mass for them, even if they cannot be present. I also attach some thinking you may wish to reflect upon and share with them on eucharistic fasting and spiritual communion (attachments 3 and 4).
Unfortunately, social distancing means that we ought not to distribute the Sacraments except at an inconvenient distance, which means that Holy Communion may now be given to people only in danger of death.
Sunday Mass online
If you are communicating with your people online, please also remind them that, although we cannot go to Mass on Sunday at the moment, we are nevertheless obliged, as Christians, to keep the Sabbath holy. Please, therefore, encourage them to pray at home together and to assist at Mass online if they can.
Sunday Mass is now available in English, Polish and Syro-Malabar, each Sunday, from various places in the diocese. I am very grateful to all those of you who have successfully reached out to your people in this way.
Christian Initiation at Easter
The situation regarding Holy Week has now changed dramatically. In line with the recent decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (attachment 5), I have reluctantly decided to postpone this year’s Chrism Mass indefinitely. The Rites of Christian Initiation that were due to take place at the Easter Vigil must unfortunately also be postponed. If things have returned to normal by then, I propose that these Rites might be held at Pentecost, however we will have to see how things develop before this can be confirmed.
With a view to your private celebration and its eventual broadcast online, I also hope to send you, by next week, a much-abbreviated form of the other Holy Week liturgies, in keeping with the spirit of the liturgy and the present constraints.
Unhappily, the popular Polish blessing service on Holy Saturday must also be suspended. I invite our Polish priests to be imaginative about holding a blessing service online for their people. Thank you for your understanding.
Use the Emergency Rites to consecrate Oil of the Sick as required: a helpful version of the Rites in cases of danger of death is also attached (attachment 6).
Visiting the Sick and Elderly, and taking Holy Communion to them
Due to the new regulations announced yesterday, neither you nor your Eucharistic Ministers may now visit the Sick. The only call that you may respond to is to someone in danger of death.
Penance & Reconciliation
The obligation of social distancing will also create some difficulty with regard to the Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation. If you are approached for the Sacrament of Penance, therefore, you must take into account all the Government’s hygiene precautions and maintain a significant distance between yourself and the penitent.
The Anointing of the Sick & Viaticum
Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum should only be carried out in danger of death. If you do anoint someone, let me suggest that you follow the advice from NHS Lothian (attachment 7). If you are over 70, or have underlying conditions, do not expose yourself to risk. Those who do anoint those in danger of death must observe all the Government’s hygiene precautions strictly.
Anointing may be applied (e.g. on the back of the hands) using a piece of cotton wool, to be used once and then disposed of properly. In hospital you will be required to put on a disposable gown, mask, and gloves.
Baptisms, Marriages & Funerals
Baptisms and Marriages have been suspended by the State. Funerals now consist solely in a short ceremony either at the graveside or the crematorium, attended by only the immediate family members: how many people will depend on the State, and perhaps the Funeral Directors. No matter how many people come, social distancing must be observed. Please choose Rites from the books that will make the moment significant but brief. Offer also to celebrate a Requiem Mass on the day itself for the deceased, although you must do so until further notice without the presence of the people.
The Gillis Centre is now closed. The Curial staff are all working from home, but can be contacted on their usual telephone numbers or by email.
Deaneries Consultation – 20 March 2020
I am grateful to those of you who took the time to make some suggestions in the consultation. I have taken note of all the views expressed.
Day of Prayer, 25 and 27 March 2020
Please join the Holy Father as he prays tomorrow with all Christians throughout the world at 11:00, and for his special Urbi et Orbi blessing on Friday at 17:00.
There is also a letter from the Scottish Catholic Observer for your attention (attachments 8 and 9).
I would also ask you to encourage everyone to pray the Memorare once a day to Our Lady, Health of the Sick.
Please keep me in your prayers at this time and be sure of my prayers for each one of you.
A happy Feast of the Annunciation to you,
Archbishop of St Andrews & Edinburgh