Ireland’s four catholic archbishops have jointly written to the Taoiseach Micheál Martin requesting a “constructive discussion” over the suspension of public worship under new restrictions aimed at curbing the rise in Covid-19 cases.
In their letter dated 8th October, Archbishops Eamon and Diarmuid Martin, Michael Neary and Kieran O’Reilly said that while they “fully support” the guidance of the public health authorities, they wished to engage constructively with the civil authorities to “ensure that our people have continued access to the support of Mass and the Sacraments and essential spiritual nourishment for these challenging times”.
Under level three restrictions that have been imposed nationwide, all religious services must move online, although churches can remain open for private prayer.
In their letter, which was penned following the bishops’ autumn general meeting, the archbishops acknowledge that faith and prayer, in the home and in church can be a huge support in difficult times and that it is important that the faithful persevere and not to lose heart.
“We are also acutely aware that for parishes and individual Catholics the loss of these spiritual supports can be a source of great anxiety and fear, and can have a detrimental impact on their overall health and well-being.”
They also underline that the communal celebration of Mass and the Sacraments – even with restricted numbers – is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian community. “These are not simply ‘gatherings’ of people, but profound expressions of who we are as a Church,” they say.
However, a founding member of the ACP has said he believes the archbishops’ request to meet the Taoiseach was “unwise” as both medical experts and the government are in agreement that in the interests of public health it is better to keep churches closed.
“It also sent out all the wrong signals of the Church seeking an exemption and preference,” Fr Brendan Hoban told the Tablet.
As those usually attending Masses are in the vulnerable age category, he believed that the bishops could give a “responsible, powerful, prophetic and pro-life” lead if they announced, for the common good and the protection of the health of the public, a complete closedown of all churches and all religious activity, with the exception of funerals, for the duration of the present Level Three phase.
“I suspect that such a decision would have the support of most priests and most Catholics,” the Co Mayo priest said and added that the bishops “should listen to priests and people rather than to appeasing individuals and pressure-groups who have their own vested interests and for whom ‘pro-life’ has such a narrow focus”.
The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) announced that from 6 October all religious services should move online due to the spike in Covid-19 infections.
Meanwhile, the bishops are planning a national service of prayer dedicating the month of November to “Remembrance of the Dead and Prayer for the Bereaved” for 1 November at 3pm.
“We invite the whole country to unite in this moment which will be followed by parish liturgies throughout the month of November, reaching out as much as possible to those who cannot be physically present.”
They said they were especially mindful of those grieving families, who, because of pandemic’s restrictions, had been unable to experience the customary spiritual and community supports which are so much part of our Irish tradition.