Fr John’s Letter – 25/8/20

Dear Parishioners of Our Lady’s, St Anne’s and St Jerome’s.
In the weeks since some of our churches reopened for the public celebration of Mass, we have been confronted with a new reality; contact tracing, limited numbers, face coverings and no singing. It is a very difficult and challenging situation for us all. There have been many questions, not all of which have an answer. So I thought that now might be a good time to condense all the questions that have been raised and attempt to offer an answer, or at least some guidance. It might be more helpful in a question and answer format.
The celebration of Mass is very strange now. There is little social contact between us and the church seems empty and strangely quiet. When will we get back to normal?
We all watch or read the news. There is little comfort at the moment; infection rates are climbing again across Europe, a timeline for a vaccine seems to be slipping further away and the head of the World Health Authority has indicated that the pandemic will persist for at least another two years. We will all have our own opinion about the pandemic, but the indications are that we have a long way to go. Sadly, I think that the way we now celebrate Mass is not a temporary blip, but the new normal.
So many people have been involved in the liturgical life of our churches; readers, extraordinary ministers, singers, children’s liturgy, funeral ministers. When can we all get back to doing what we did previously?
Across all our churches, we have been richly blessed with many people who generously give of their time to serve the community in the celebration of the liturgy. These ministries are not optional extras, but are essential to create a welcoming atmosphere and to ensure that our parish Masses are celebrated worthily and well. It is here that the tragedy of this pandemic has struck deeply. Our parish Masses have been stripped back to the bare minimum to ensure social distancing and a safe environment. The two deacons who have now been appointed to serve all three parishes in Formby have taken responsibility for the simple preparation of all the liturgies, but even they are not able to fulfil their ordained ministry at the present time. The priest must remain alone in the sanctuary without servers or deacons. So the simple answer is that I do not know when these ministries can begin again. So much will depend on the course of the pandemic and the official guidance.However, behind the scenes many people are working hard to enable our Masses to be celebrated safely; stewards, cleaners, florists and others involved in electronic outreach. Much of this work is carried out away from the public eye and I want to thank each one of them for their generous service in very difficult circumstances.
Iarrived at church only to be told that the maximum number had been reached and that I could not come in. How can this happen?As I shared with all of you who were at Mass last Sunday, this is the hardest thing of all in this new reality. Each church has a maximum number of worshippers which has been approved by the Archdiocese, which must not be exceeded. Our most recent weekend Masses at Our Lady’s and St Jerome’s have been at the limit. The first guiding principle here is not the right of people to attend Mass, but the right of those who are there to be kept safe. I know this cuts against the grain for us, but this is the reality of our situation. We have seen in recent weeks that the civil authorities will not hesitate to close any public venue that poses a risk to public health. Churches are very vulnerable. So we cannot take any risks that might lead to the closure of our churches. I want to reiterate here what the various authorities of church and state have been saying for some time. If you are feeling unwell, please do not put yourself or others at risk by coming to church. Again, this cuts against the grain for us, but it is of great importance. So please bear with us and to those of you who might be turned away, I am sorry and I hope you will understand why this has happened.On a slightly brighter note, I am happy to tell you all that a new live streaming system is being installed at Our Lady’s and will be up and running within the next two weeks. There is a new system already running at St Jerome’s. All the details will be made known soon.
What about the social life of our parishes? When can we get back together again?I think that all I have written above answers this question. Our getting together is the lifeblood of our parishes and the pandemic has hit us hard. One day, we will be able to get together again. We don’t know when that will be. But the life of the church goes on; our celebration of Mass, our prayer, our outreach to each other. I have resolved to make communication a priority across our Catholic community in this crisis. A new website is being created, our new Facebook page is up and running, our You Tube page is up and running where you can access the live streaming of St Jerome’s Mass on Saturday evenings and shortly the two Sunday Masses at Our Lady’s. I shall also be writing to you all weekly to keep you up to date with what is happening in our community.
I hope that these questions and answers are helpful. This is an exceptionally difficult time for us all, and I suspect that with the approach of the autumn and winter, the challenges will increase. But first and foremost, we are the bearers of the light and joy of Jesus Christ. He is our guide, our friend and our Saviour. If we remain close to him and to each other, we shall not fail.
God bless you all and those whom you love,
Father John

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