The obligation for Catholics to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days was re-introduced in England and Wales from Pentecost 2022.
The decision by the English and Welsh bishops means that, from June 5, the faithful will be obliged to go to Sunday Mass each week for the first time in more than two years.
The Government’s lockdown of March 2020, aimed at stopping the spread of the Covid-19 virus and protecting the NHS from possible collapse, included the closure of churches so public Mass was unavailable to Catholics during that period.
When churches began to reopen in the summer of that year, uncertainty over public safety led to bishops to conclude that it might be unwise to try to compel frail, elderly and vulnerable people to go to church while there was a risk they might contract the disease.
In a statement released after their Easter plenary assembly in Cardiff, the bishops of England and Wales said they believe “that the reasons which have prevented Catholics from attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation no longer apply”.
“Since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, until the present time, we have shared with you our judgment that the situation of the last two years has meant that the Sunday Obligation has been impeded and has needed to be fulfilled in other ways,” they said.
“We thank God that this situation has now changed.
“The pressing challenges of the pandemic have lessened significantly. Most people have resumed the wide range of normal activities, no longer restricted by the previous Covid measures.”
The bishops said they understood that “there will still be some members of our congregations who, for reasons of health, do not feel safe enough to return to Mass”.
“It has always been the understanding of the Church that when the freedom of any Catholic to attend Mass in person is impeded for a serious reason, because of situations such as ill health, care for the sick or legitimate fear, this is not a breach of the Sunday Obligation,” they said in their statement.
They added that “virtual viewing” of Mass over the internet did not fulfil the obligation to go to Mass on Sunday.
In Scotland, the obligation was restored from March 6, the First Sunday of Lent, but with a government rule that the faithful must wear face covering.
In England and Wales, however, nearly restrictions – including the use of face masks – were scrapped soon after Christmas.
Singing was allowed, hymn and liturgical books could be shared, the sign of peace restored and holy water stoups were refilled.
In a press conference following the plenary assembly, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said the “duty to attend Mass is a privilege” and “the duty is there to back up the privilege”.
He said: “Attending Mass is not only a private action, it is also an act of public witness.”
In their statement, the bishops said that “the profound desire to participate in the Holy Mass and share in the Eucharist” was a “beautiful hallmark of the Catholic faith”.
“We do so with deep gratitude and joy,” they said. “The Eucharist gives the Church her identity … it enables us to worship Almighty God, to support each other on our journey of faith, and to be a visible sign of faith in the world.
“This hallmark is supported and strengthened by the precept that our fundamental Christian duty is to worship God by participating in the celebration of Mass,” they continued. “Attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is the greatest of all privileges.”