NOTTINGHAM, England, November 6, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – As new lockdown restrictions are enforced across England, a Catholic priest was banned by his local bishop from saying a private Mass while the church was open.
As part of lockdown legislation rushed through Parliament last night by a vote of 516-38, communal worship has been specifically banned in England, although churches are permitted to remain open for private prayer. It marked the second time that worship has been prohibited by law, after the first national lockdown in the spring.
Father David Palmer, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, had previously announced online that he would be arrested rather than deny the sacraments to people again, including expressing regret for having ceased public Masses earlier during the initial national lockdown.
“I will be arrested before I deny the sacraments to the people of God again. And I repent for having backed down before. Eternal life comes before this life … or our faith means nothing,” wrote Fr. Palmer.
When it became clear over the past few days that public worship would be banned by the government in the forthcoming lockdown, Fr. Palmer decided upon a strategy to ensure that his congregation could still access the sacraments while obeying the letter of the law.
He advertised the hours in which the church would be open for private prayer, suggesting people pray “individually as they wish, Rosary, contemplation, divine office, etc.”
Meanwhile, “Fr. David will be praying an individual Mass at a side altar, which is the highest prayer of the Church, which priests are encouraged to pray every day if possible. It will be a private individual prayer and hopefully won’t disturb your individual prayers too much.”
Fr. Palmer continued, “You may of course individually decide to unite your prayers with the sacrifice of the Mass (that is your individual choice). After Fr. David has offered Mass those who individually choose to do so may come forward for holy Communion, which Cardinal Sarah (the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship) has said no one can stop a priest from administering.”
He added that all these measures would be performed according to the government guidelines regarding mask wearing, using hand sanitizer, and cleaning the church, making it “one of the most Covid secure places in existence.”
However, on Wednesday, the day before lockdown, Palmer tweeted to say that his bishop had forbidden him from even saying his private Mass while the Church was open. “I am deeply saddened to say that I have been asked by the Bishop not to offer private Mass while the Church is open for private prayer. I can’t go against the direct request of the Bishop. He had great empathy for my position, but still felt he had to ask me to desist.”
Palmer is in the Nottingham diocese, which is under Bishop Patrick McKinney’s governance. A few days before, McKinney had written to MPs, observing the “critical service towards the common good” that Catholics provide, which is “created and sustained by communal prayer.” He warned that the new measures risked “eroding the unity needed as our country enters a most difficult period of time.”
A Twitter user named Ciaran highlighted the irony of the situation: “You cannot pray privately while the church is open for private prayer. Figures.”
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