We are grateful that the Government has heard the increasing dissatisfaction of Christians, and people of other religious traditions, and announced their intention to allow places of worship to open for individual prayer and worship from 15 June. We hope that basic principles of religious freedom, and indeed equity with other groups in society, will continue to be borne in mind in the coming stages of easing the lockdown. We are also grateful to all those in the Church of England, in other churches and in other faith communities, for their continuing work on the Government’s Places of Worship Taskforce to find a safe way of enabling congregational worship to resume as soon as possible.
We are acutely aware of the painful experience borne by the vast majority of lay people and some clergy in recent months, deprived of corporate worship and the sacraments, and many others who have been unable either to marry or pray for their deceased family and friends in church. We hope that all who wish to – and are able to do so – will make use of the restored freedom to enter Christian churches, where it is feasible for those churches to open safely, and will continue to make use of widely available resources and opportunities to support their faith as we await a further easing of the lockdown.
The influential Anglican priest and theologian Richard Hooker wrote these words in the sixteenth century, “Churches receive as everything else their chief perfection from the end whereunto they serve. Which end being the public worship of God, they are in this consideration houses of greater dignity than any provided for meaner purposes.” While our use of language has changed slightly in the intervening centuries, the essential truth of Hooker’s statement remains: the worship of God through gathered, corporate worship, as well as private prayer, is intrinsic to that dignity in worship we seek as Christians. Hooker’s writings go on to re-iterate the words of the Psalmist, “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
On this Eve of the Feast of Corpus Christi, we look forward to people being able to return to churches next week to offer their prayers before the Blessed Sacrament of the Lord. We also look forward to the time, over the coming months, when the Eucharist can be celebrated and shared among God’s people. The Eucharist is not an optional liturgical extra or a contemporary lifestyle choice; it is the source and summit of the Church’s identity and forms an essential part of our Christian witness, as the historic formulae, the canons and the liturgies of the Church of England rightly recognise.
In this short devotional video on the theme of Corpus Christi (below), the Bishop of Fulham speaks powerfully of the vital role the Blessed Sacrament has in our spiritual lives. The film is a joint initiative between The Society and the Church Union and was made in accordance with the Government guidelines in place during the pandemic. It is the final film in a series of eight such films, covering the themes of Holy Week, Easter, Our Lady, Pentecost, praying for the dead and, now, Corpus Christi. The films are offered, with our prayers, as a resource to all those looking to reflect on these important Christian themes at home in this time of pandemic.