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Island in English Channel permits public Masses as UK churches remain closed

Island in English Channel permits public Masses as UK churches remain closed

The island of Guernsey will permit what may be the first public Masses in the British Isles since the coronavirus lockdown Monday.

While churches remain closed across the United Kingdom, authorities in Guernsey have allowed public liturgies to resume from June 1.

The island is a self-governing British crown dependency and not part of the U.K. It is therefore able to set its own rules.

From Monday, the island’s three Catholic churches will be permitted to admit up to 30 people at Masses, not including the celebrant or concelebrants, and have up to six altar servers.

Fr. Bruce Barnes, the Catholic Dean of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, told CNA: “There’s a tremendous sense of change in the air and a tremendous sense of optimism for the future. We hope it will all be for the good of the island.”

Guernsey, which has a population of 67,000 and is located in the English Channel, has had 252 confirmed coronavirus cases and 13 recorded deaths as of May 28. But it recently became the first place in the British Isles to have no active cases.

On May 15, the island’s authorities announced that churches could reopen for private, individual prayer, provided that social distancing was respected. Priests are now permitted to hear confessions again, while sitting at a distance from penitents.

But Catholics who plan to attend Masses on Monday do not know whether they will be allowed to receive Holy Communion.

The States of Guernsey will announce May 29 whether priests will be permitted to distribute Communion to members of the congregation.

If the authorities give the go-ahead, Catholics will only be able to receive Communion in one kind, in the hand, and will have to observe social distancing as they approach the priest. Priests will be required to sanitize their hands before and after Communion.

“We can’t, at the moment, sing,” Fr. Barnes said. “Which I’m sure will please some people.”

The island’s churches will continue to livestream Masses after public liturgies resume for those who are unable to attend in person.

Guernsey’s Catholic churches are part of the English Diocese of Portsmouth. Under current government plans, churches are not expected to reopen for private prayer in England before July 4. But bishops are in talks with officials and hope that churches will open sooner.

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said in his weekly newsletter that Catholics in the U.K. “will have much to learn from the experience of Fr. Bruce and the parishioners there.”

Guernsey will be the first of the Channel Islands to resume public Masses, ahead of Jersey, the largest of the islands, which has a population of 98,000.

The U.K. has recorded more than 37,500 deaths from the coronavirus as of May 28, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center — the second highest figure in the world after that of the United States.

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