The leaders of the four main Churches in Ireland have formally recommended that their congregations use face coverings at services from this weekend.
In a joint statement, the prelates said it remained their responsibility “to ensure that our services of worship are safe places for all who join with us”.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, along with the Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop John McDowell, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rt Revd David Bruce, and the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Revd Tom McKnight, said their move followed recent consultations with public health authorities.
Neither the administration in Stormont nor the Irish govern- ment have made the wearing of face coverings at services of worship mandatory so far.
Cartoon by Pugh
The church leaders said it had become increasingly clear that the wearing of face coverings, in conjunction with hand washing and other guidance, “is likely to reduce the spread of coronavirus, thus helping to protect others”.
Using face coverings was “one way in which we can evidence protection for the most vulnerable, support for our health workers, and practical love for our neighbours”, they said.
While recognising that it may not be appropriate for those who are leading from the front during worship, including preaching, to wear face coverings, the leaders said they should at all times continue to maintain at least two metres physical distancing from one another, and four metres physical distancing from the front row of the congregation.
Separately, Bishop Denis Brennan of Ferns also recommended that Catholics wear masks at public Masses and services, “in solidarity with the vast majority of our fellow citizens who actively promote and pursue as safe an environment as possible – in their homes, their places of work and where they shop or gather”.
Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said that face coverings should be worn in all but exceptional circumstances and stressed that especially in smaller places that are not well ventilated the wearing of face coverings is “ obligatory”.