Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said vulnerable people should be strongly encouraged not to attend church at Christmas.
“It may well be more appropriate for them to follow Mass online as a family and perhaps at some stage in the day make a brief prayerful visit to the crib, to permit children to experience the mystery of the birth of Jesus. Churches should provide the ample possibility for people to attend Mass at some time within the 12 days of Christmas,” he said in a message to priests and parishes in the archdiocese.
He advised people not to take risks, that numbers wishing to attend Mass, especially on Christmas night and Christmas Day, will be well above the capacity of many churches. “We should encourage people not to gather in numbers beyond what is approved,” he cautioned.
Fr Roy Donovan, of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) leadership team, said they are awaiting Government advice following Tuesday's Cabinet meeting before commenting on attendances at Masses over the Christmas period.
ACP co-founder Fr Brendan Hoban asked "can we really expect the young, who are champing at the bit, to socialise responsibly after a second difficult lockdown if their elders are unprepared to make the sacrifice of not having Mass this Christmas?"
He suggested it would be a telling symbolic selfless gesture of sacrifice "for the sake of others and ourselves" and "a pro-life statement, reminding us, as Pope Francis continues to do, that pro-life is not a slogan for being against abortion but a broad statement of respect for all life".
He was also critical of the four Catholic archbishops “who went cap in hand to the Taoiseach to give preference and privilege to the church to have public Masses” last October. It was an opportunity missed when they could have given prophetic witness by making a sacrifice for the common good, he said.
“All the churches could have given a great example by together agreeing to the ongoing suspension of public worship in the interests of the health and safety of people,” he said.
The reality is that under Government regulations a tiny percentage of Catholics will be able to attend a Christmas Mass, he said. From what most priests and many Catholics were saying he felt “we would be as well off not to have these limited Masses at all”.
It would be better for the many if families were encouraged to gather in homes and follow a streamed Mass on the webcam or on television, he said.
It always surprised him when people who were serious church goers seemed “so adverse, in respect to limiting public Masses, to doing what we Christians are expected to do – to make sacrifices for others. Surely church goers of all groups need to give good example to others, not least, as Nphet [National Public Health Emergency Team] keeps reminding us, to make sacrifices so that life is protected and that as many as possible are kept safe and kept alive.”