Bishop John’s Homily on the resumption of public worship – Sunday 28th June 2020

You can listen to the full homily here and read the full homily below.

Homily on the Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul 28th June 2020 from Salford Cathedral

I have to speak to you on two different themes this morning so I hope that you will be patient with me. The first theme is of course the Feast which we celebrate today of Ss Peter and Paul. Isn’t it curious that Peter and Paul, so different, were the foundation stones of that first generation of the Church when Jesus had returned to his Father.

There is Peter, who when he first meets Jesus feels entirely unworthy, he says leave me Lord, I am sinful man, he doesn’t really want to have anything to do with Jesus no matter how much he may admire him, but Jesus calls him: follow me. Soon after that it is Peter who is named amongst those twelve first apostles and then shortly after that we have that Gospel passage that we have just heard where Peter is named as the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.

Now if you look through the Gospels you will find Peter not always on the best of form. He can be quite argumentative at times and there are times when he clearly does not fully understand what Jesus is saying and teaching. When it comes to the great test of his loyalty, having just said I would never betray you, he goes and denies the Lord three times when Jesus is being arrested. But then we see after the resurrection that wonderful moment when Jesus comes back and asks him three times, do you love me? Well that’s fine of course, Lord, you know everything, you know I love you. Well there you are, feed my lambs, feed my sheep; let us move on, let us look to the future, you have made mistakes in the past but that does not stop you being the rock on which I am going to build my Church.

Then we have got Paul, educated, for the first twenty something years of his life a committed pharisees. So committed that he is prepared to give up his life to persecute those first Christians and then there is a remarkable conversion so that Paul’s life is turned upside down so he becomes the apostle to the gentiles and he has to work out what he believes in now he knows that Christ is the Lord. We see that best in his letter to the Romans when he is likely to tell us more about himself than in any of his other letters. First of all he is utterly convinced in chapter eight that nothing can separate us from the love of God. That love of God for us is sacred and permanent, and he has to admit that he is not perfect, because in chapter seven, he says, I don’t understand my own behaviour, I can set out to do the right thing but I don’t do it and I can even decide the thing I shouldn’t be doing and that’s the very thing I end up doing. But he is not put off by that, he recognises his faults and failings but he knows that nothing can separate him from the love of God and then there is that added strength when he says the spirit comes to help us in our weakness. Paul understands that although he is talented in many ways, there are weaknesses and he needs the strength of the spirit to guide him in all that he is doing.

So I think that today’s Feast is very encouraging for all of us because the Church sets out in the beginning with two very different characters, with different faults and failings and different strengths and gifts and this is what the Church is all about. All of us working together and bringing our gifts and our talents in wanting to serve our Lord, and to build his kingdom in our world and we all fit in there somewhere, different although we are we all have a place and if we are trying to do what is right and good, we have certainly the love of God and the grace of the spirit working in us and through us as ambassadors for Christ. So today should be for each and everyone of us a great celebration of the Church and our personal place within the Church as ambassador for Christ and missionary disciples.

Now I need to talk about something very much more practical because you will have heard that the government restrictions on the lockdown have been lessened and some of the lifted. So, the Archbishops of England have said, that from next weekend Catholic Churches may be open for the public celebration of Mass. Now we have to be very careful about what that means in reality and in all things we must not loose sight for one moment of people’s safety.

The reality is that very few churches in this diocese will open for Mass next Sunday. That is because there are numerous rules and regulations and conditions that need to be in place to do with social distancing, cleansing, the stewarding of people and indeed the Church must be deep cleaned after every service. That is going to rely on any number of volunteers and not all churches will be able to meet those conditions by next weekend and let us be clear about this too, even those few churches, and others will follow on as quickly as possible, even those few churches will have a much reduced capacity. Even some of the biggest churches in the diocese will only be able to have 60 or 70 people present for Mass socially distanced. That is far less than the numbers they would normally expect. So, there is going to be disappointed in people if they are turning up for Church.

When we are in Church for Mass there are going to be quite a lot of rules and regulations about how we move around the Church, where we are seated and how we receive Holy Communion. That is because we are in a pandemic and do not think for one minute that we are out of the dangers of the pandemic. If we are listening to the statistics then we know that week upon week still hundreds of people are dying because of the virus and many, many more thousands being affected by it. We are not out of the danger zone and those countries that are ahead of us in dealing with lockdown are finding that as they emerge from lockdown there is a second spike beginning to occur with many new infections. No, we are not out of the danger zone yet and I am afraid the recklessness and silliness of so many people crowding on to those beaches and in those unlicensed street parties, have convinced us that all too many are not aware of the dangers of what we face with this virus. It is going to go on for a while and we have to be so careful about looking after one another, looking after ourselves but not putting others in danger.

So, I want to make a few very firm recommendations and remind you first of all that there is absolutely no obligation to attend Sunday Mass at this time. That obligation will return into the future when we can gather freely in our churches again but for now there is no obligation.

When more churches begin to open for the public celebration of Mass well maybe we might think about attending a weekday Mass in order not to crowd our churches on Sunday and respect their capacity levels.

I would also firmly recommend that any elderly person, anyone with any frailty or underlying medical condition shouldn’t consider trying to attend Mass at this time because you are particularly vulnerable and any gathering in any building adds to the risks open to you. So please do not concern yourself at this time and do not put yourself in danger.

I would also ask that if your own parish church is not opening for the public celebration of Mass please do not go hunting around for a Church that is open. They have to deal with the capacity for their own parishioners and it can lead to a great deal of frustration for yourselves and others if we are looking around to see where we can get into a Church for Mass.

We have established ourselves very successfully with the live streaming of Masses and they will continue wherever possible. I am delighted to hear of the numbers that do participate through live streaming, particularly here at the Cathedra. It is wonderful to hear that people from ninety-nine different nations have participated at one time or another in live streaming, that can go on. I know that it means spiritual communion and a sense of distance in that virtual attendance, but it is still important that we are praying together. I feel your presence here in this Cathedral even though I cannot see you and I do not know how man you are; we are at prayer together.

There are so many other initiatives that have been so successful in the live streaming of devotions and liturgies, in those newsletters that go round so frequently in our parish communities, on the daily emails in some parishes. All these things have not only maintained our communities but I believe they have strengthened them and this must go on, and in all our efforts we must do everything that we can to ensure that those people who are not connected to the internet do not feel isolated and alone. We can make a more personal and direct connection with them.

Yes, we may have the possibility of the public celebration of Mass, but I think realistically we have got to look first and foremost for the safety of ourselves and our brothers and sisters. I do not think that the Lord for one minute would be insisting that we do anything else than hold safety as a priority.

And I would say this last one thing, I am so grateful to the priests of this diocese for their determination, for their commitment, for their initiatives in a very strange ministry in this time and I know that it is greatly appreciated by so many people. But I would ask this, please do not place any pressure upon your priest to open a Church more quickly than he feels comfortable in doing so. There may be lots of reasons of which we are not aware why a particular Church is slower in opening for private prayer and for the public celebration of Mass than we may know.

God bless you for all that we are, let us continue to build up that sense of personal spirituality, lets renew it and strengthen it in our prayers. In knowing that wherever I am, I am Church, that the spirit is in me and I am called to be an ambassador for Christ and a missionary disciple.

Stay with us Lord on this rather difficult Journey.