Closeup shot of an unrecognizable woman holding a rosary while praying Image copyright Getty Images

Roman Catholic churches in England are “preparing for a time” when the celebration of Mass may have to “come to an end”, the Catholic leader in England and Wales has said.

Catholics have an obligation to go to Mass every Sunday.

But large gatherings could be banned in the UK from as early as next weekend, as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The Church of England is also following these procedures, as well as refraining from passing collection plates around.

The Muslim Council of Britain has urged mosques, madrasas and Muslim community centres to follow the governments hygiene practices.

It also urged mosques to have contingency plans in place for Ramadan – which begins in the second half of April – as it may have to suspend mass gatherings.

The United Synagogue asked its members to refrain from shaking hands and kissing religious artefacts, such as communal siddurim, which is a Jewish prayer book.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said Catholic churches were “adjusting” to minimise the spread of infection.

He said: “We are preparing for a time when the churches should not be used to gather big numbers of people together, so we might come to an end of the celebration of Mass or other services.”

Many churches have already brought in measures to avoid exposing congregations to the virus.

In some churches, holy water has been removed from the entrances, the sign of peace – normally a handshake – has been replaced by bowing and churchgoers can no longer drink wine from shared chalices.

Church ministers are also washing their hands before distributing communion.

Speaking to BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: “These are not the essential parts of mass,” adding that he hoped everyone will be “cooperative and calm”.

However, he said: “The presence of the church and the space that it offers will be very important in the coming months,” adding that some churches might also move to live-stream services.

“Even if the priest is there with one helper, we can stream them and people can join in from home and gather if they wish on a Sunday to follow the mass and say their prayers together,” he said.

He added that, in his view, churches would “always remain open” because they were “places where people can go, they can sit quietly, they can pray there’s, plenty of space in them and there are no health risks.”

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