LEICESTER, United Kingdom – In Scotland, the Catholic bishops have welcomed the announcement that communal worship can restart on July 15.

All places of worship were closed in the United Kingdom on March 23 due the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Churches in Scotland were opened for private prayer on June 22; however, public worship remained banned even after being allowed in Northern Ireland (June 29) and England (July 4).

On July 9, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the country was moving into Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

“After careful consideration, we have decided that from 15 July, places of worship can reopen for communal prayer, congregational services and contemplation,” Sturgeon said.

However, numbers will be limited, and social distancing and hygiene rules must be observed.

“Unfortunately, given what we know of transmission risks, singing and chanting will also be restricted,” the First Minister said.

“Detailed guidance is currently being finalized in consultation with our faith communities, but I hope today’s announcement will be welcomed by all those for whom faith and worship is important and a source of comfort,” she added.

Sturgeon also said restrictions would also be eased on funerals – which had been limited to household members or immediate family – and weddings would be allowed to resume under strict conditions.

“I am well aware that the restrictions we have had to place on attendance at funerals in these last few months have been particularly hard to bear and I am grateful to everyone who has complied, in what I know will have been heart-breaking circumstances,” she said.

“I must stress that this change applies only to services. Associated gatherings – such as wakes or receptions – must continue to follow the limits on household gatherings and hospitality,” Sturgeon added.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, said the Catholic Church has been preparing itself to safely offer public liturgies.

“Over the past month, our parishes have been preparing for the safe resumption of communal prayer and the celebration of Mass, which is at the center of the life of the church. To have been unable to attend Mass for many months has been a source of real sadness for Scotland’s Catholics and I am sure there will be great joy at the prospect of returning,” he said in a statement.

“The bishops are extremely grateful to all those who have worked tirelessly to prepare our parishes for public worship and to those who made their views known to their parliamentary representatives and the government on the subject of communal worship,” Gilbert continued.

“While thanking the Scottish Government for listening to these calls, we would remind parishioners that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains suspended and ask those who return to do so in accordance with the infection control measures in force in each parish, mindful always of the need to protect themselves and others,” the bishop added.

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