By Andy Drozdziak
Cardinal Nichols is getting behind a new Universe-backed campaign to urge the faithful to return to Mass and ‘get back to church.’
In a plea to regular Mass-goers, he invites all to participate in the mission of rebuilding a post-Covid Church by encouraging people to return to Mass.
“Do not hesitate to get alongside Catholics who have lost this habit (of attending Mass) over the last few years and encourage them to join you at Mass,” the Cardinal told the Universe.
“Your kind, personal approach is far more effective than an announcement from the pulpit.”
The new invitation comes after the bishops of England and Wales announced last week that the Sunday obligation to attend Mass has been reintroduced for Catholics in the UK from Pentecost Sunday, with Covid restrictions now removed.
Cardinal Nichols was keen to highlight that gathering at Mass as a community is a “privilege.” “Taking part in the Mass is the greatest privilege of Catholic life,” he said. The importance of attending Mass physically has been emphasised by the bishops and the laity.
A spokesman for the CBCEW said last week: “The Catholic faith has always been very physical. You can see it in the rosaries, statues, the particular devotions to saints and Our Lady and even the veneration of relics, a whole sense of touch and smell. It is an incarnational religion, the word made flesh. That sense of physical presence is important.”
The sense of urgency to call people ‘back to church’ comes as numbers show that many Catholics have not returned to Mass since pandemic restrictions were introduced. Estimates suggest that numbers had fallen by 40 per cent by October 2021 as a result of the pandemic, according to research undertaken by Professor Stephen Bullivant from St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and one-in-eight of the Catholic parishes surveyed said they had seen falls of more than 60 per cent.
Cardinal Nichols is keen to redress the balance.
“There is no better thing to do – especially on Sunday,” he said.
“Attending Mass is not only a private action, it is also an act of public witness.”
Due to the Covid regulations, many Catholics benefited from virtual, online Mass, but the bishops stated last week that ‘virtual viewing of Mass online does not fulfil the Sunday Obligation.’
Layman and father-of-five Paul Hammond, 50, from Washington near Newcastle, has shared the benefits of his family physically attending Mass.
“My wife and I have found that all of our family can relate better to God and to our fellow parishioners when the worship experience is physical and not just virtual,” Mr Hammond told the Universe.
“We feel more in fellowship with others. We don’t just see and hear what is going on, but we touch the holy water, smell the incense, and taste the Lord himself. Our whole being becomes actively enveloped in the Mass.”
For Mr Hammond, the most important part of the physical celebration is receiving the actual Body and Blood of Christ. “Best of all,” he said, “We believe each of us receives more grace when we receive Holy Communion in fact and not only in desire.”
For Cardinal Nichols, receiving strength and encountering a welcoming parish community is a key part of the Mass experience.
“There is no better prayer (than Mass). We give ourselves in prayer in union with Jesus, the very Son of God. We receive God’s blessing and grace for our daily effort,” he said. “You might like to see if there are others in your circle of friends who might also take up this invitation.”
Such an invitation is offered to all in the Cardinal’s own archdiocese, Westminster, where a public display of faith will take place from 11th June-19th June, entitled ‘celebrating the Eucharistic Heart of the Church.’
The importance of Mass will be publicly highlighted during the week. The Rector of Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, Fr Alan Robinson, said: “Visiting the Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, waiting for us in the tabernacle of the church and the celebration of Holy Mass, must be the beating heart of the life of every Catholic. For this is the bread which has come down from heaven, and is the precious gift of God himself to us.”