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LONDON, June 30, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) has released guidance for the resumption of the public celebration of Mass, which includes members of the congregation wearing face coverings, only allowing Holy Communion in the hand while standing, and not allowing congregational singing.

“The government maintains that the 2m social distancing requirements should be applied where possible. The government has said (it) is possible to go to ‘1m plus;’ this means you can space people more closely (with a minimum of 1m) providing a mitigation of risk is also applied,” the CBCEW document states. 

“In the case of our churches, this would mean the compulsory wearing of a face covering for members of the congregation. If those on the sanctuary are sufficiently distant from the congregation, there is no need to wear face coverings.”

The bishops’ document also insists that “Communion must be given silently in the hand only, with the communicant standing, and avoiding any physical contact.”

The guidance gives two options for Communion for the congregation. The second of these options suggests distributing Communion after Mass has ended and says members of the congregation should “immediately leave the Church” after receiving Communion.

The guidance, which is published on the CBCEW website, bears the name only of Rev. Canon Christopher Thomas, the CBCEW general secretary.

In March, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales prohibited the celebration of public Masses before the lockdown came into force and, according to their own statement, played a crucial role themselves in convincing the government to require that churches be closed altogether.

Last week, Archbishops Vincent Cardinal Nichols of Westminster, Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, Bernard Longley of Birmingham and John Wilson of Southwark released a letter anticipating the “Resumption of Collective Worship” in which they said Catholics “must now rebuild what it means to be Eucharistic communities, holding fast to all that we hold dear, while at the same time exploring creative ways to meet changed circumstances.”

Catholic journalist Damian Thompson described the guidance from the bishops on Communion as “outrageous” and said, “This is not about Covid. It’s a power grab.”

Dr. Joseph Shaw, chairman of The Latin Mass Society Society of England & Wales, told LifeSiteNews that the CBCEW’s document is “puzzling.” 

“Although introduced by a letter from the Archbishops of England and Wales, it is signed simply by Canon Chris Thomas, who is the secretary to the Bishops' Conference, but it is not clear that he is even signing in an official capacity. Such documents from Bishops' Conferences are not, in any case, binding, and the government guidelines on the distribution of 'consumables' which it follows are only recommendations, not legally binding rules,” Shaw said.

“Priests must keep in mind the universal law of the Church, which prevents them from refusing Communion to those who wish to receive on the tongue — and indeed this is the only way Communion may be received in the Traditional Latin Mass. The document makes no reference to this, or the intinction method used by the Eastern Rites celebrated in England and Wales,” he continued.

“It remains open to priests to pay heed to the many experts who have now said that the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue is no more dangerous than in the hand.”

Maria Madise, director of Voice of the Family, told LifeSiteNews that when reading the guidance “one cannot help but wonder whether these have been written by a Catholic?”

“So much is lacking in understanding of the Holy Eucharist, which is manifest in these guidelines by ways of radically limiting devotion and thanksgiving for receiving Our Lord,” Madise said.

“Most particularly the new regulations, issued by the bishops of England and Wales, recommend that the faithful receive Holy Communion in the hand only. Such recommendation contradicts the divine and Church law, it denies the reality of the Real Presence, and leads the faithful, albeit in most cases unintentionally, to commit serious offences against the divine life,” she continued.

“The faithful are being misled into believing that the responsible option is to receive Our Lord in the hand despite the very real danger of losing and desecrating fragments of our Eucharistic Lord. This can only lead to the Body of Christ being trampled on by the feet of clergy and laity in Catholic churches around the world on an unprecedented scale.”

Yesterday, the UK government published guidance “for the safe use of places of worship from 4 July,” which strongly advises that food or drink essential to services only be distributed into the hand. The government’s guidance makes no comment on whether people should be standing or kneeling when receiving what they refer to as “consumables.” The government’s guidance also strongly encourages faith communities to avoid singing at services and for face coverings to be worn.

The government’s guidance also outlines the possibility of how failure to adequately comply with regulations and the enforcement of these by local authorities could in some instances result in criminal prosecution and even prison sentences. 

“Where the enforcing authority (your local authority) identifies responsible individuals who are not taking action to comply with the relevant public health legislation and guidance to control public health risks (including this guidance), they will consider taking a range of actions to improve control of risks,” the guidance states.

“The actions the enforcing authority can take include the provision of specific advice to employers to support them to achieve the required standard, through to issuing enforcement notices to help secure improvements. Serious breaches and failure to comply with enforcement notices can constitute a criminal offence, with serious fines and even imprisonment for up to two years,” the document continues.

The guidance states that “inspectors are carrying out compliance checks nationwide.”

A group of 25 UK Christian leaders, including Church of England bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, announced yesterday that they will continue their legal challenge against the government enforced closure of churches during the lockdown.

In an open letter published in May, Catholic clergy led by former papal nuncio Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and Cardinals Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, Joseph Zen, and Janis Pujats reminded politicians around the world that “(t)he state has no right to interfere, for any reason whatsoever, in the sovereignty of the church.”

“This autonomy and freedom are an innate right that Our Lord Jesus Christ has given her for the pursuit of her proper ends. For this reason, as Pastors we firmly assert the right to decide autonomously on the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, just as we claim absolute autonomy in matters falling within our immediate jurisdiction, such as liturgical norms and ways of administering Communion and the Sacraments,” the signatories stated.