Two Irish dioceses have suspended funeral Masses until after the Covid-19 crisis is over and have directed that the deceased instead be brought directly to the place of burial with no church service.
Bishop Larry Duffy of Clogher announced new guidelines this weekend for his cross-border diocese including a provision for the Rite of Committal or Burial at the graveyard to be led by a layperson if necessary.
The announcement came as concerns were raised over the health of Ireland’s priests, the majority of whom are elderly and in the most vulnerable group for Covid-19.
In his guidelines, Bishop Duffy excused all priests in Clogher diocese, which covers Monaghan, and parts of Tyrone, Fermanagh, Louth and Donegal, who are aged 70 or older or with underlying health conditions from frontline ministry.
The decision by Clogher diocese to close its churches to funerals follows the announcement last week by Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor that he was closing all churches in his diocese.
From now on, Bishop Treanor said, the dead will be taken directly to the cemetery where a funeral prayer service will take place.
“It is simply too risky to gather inside buildings, even in small numbers. We must proactively exercise extreme care for each other and for ourselves; to do otherwise would be unchristian,” he warned.
The Bishop of Down and Connor stressed that requiem masses will be celebrated in memory of the deceased when the pandemic has passed.
“The sole aim of these measures is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus – to save lives and to enable us all to protect each other. They were put in place to save the lives of the elderly, youth, priests and people. These measures were issued after much thought, prayer and indeed with a very heavy heart. I realise that they have upset some, some find them very hard to accept. I have received some pleas to reopen churches,” Bishop Treanor said in a video message.
Baptisms and marriages will not be celebrated in either of the two dioceses until further notice.
Parents anxious about the health of a child, Bishop Duffy said, are being advised to bless the child with a crucifix or their own hand and the priest may pray with them over the phone or via Skype or some similar communications mode.
“This is a very strange and challenging time for us as a Church, as a country and as a world family. But we are not abandoned. God does not do social distancing. God is with us, accompanying us and healing us, because God loves us,” Bishop Duffy said and added that he was “especially conscious” of families grieving the loss of loved ones.
“I assure you that, despite the necessary restrictions, the Church accompanies you in a particular way through our prayers.” He added that he was deeply conscious too of the burdens these times place on priests, deacons and staff and volunteers.
Fr John Quinn, a spokesman for the Association of Catholic Priests, stressed that priests and funeral directors are also frontline workers. “The problem is that the majority of priests in the country are in the over 65 age bracket and so are vulnerable. Priests need to be aware that they have to take personal responsibility for their own health. I think people will understand that,” he said.