Major changes to Catholic Church services will come into place on June 29th, following the relaxation of rules to allow services to resume, the island’s bishops have said.
New guidelines recommend that rows of seats in churches will need to be cordoned off with one person allowed sit “at the end of each free row while permitting those from the same household to sit together”.
The obligation to attend Sunday Mass and holy days remains dispensed with while Communion should be received in the hand with priests and ministers of the Eucharist wearing a face covering while distributing it.
Priests and such ministers should “visibly” sanitise their hands before and after distribution of Communion while the procession for Communion may require the assistance of stewards.
Altar servers should help only when all physical distancing requirements are met while the sign of peace “can be omitted” or is offered without physical contact.
At baptisms, the priest “will sign the child with the cross without touching”, with one child per ceremony and anointing with holy oils by cotton bud. Provision should be made in the body of the church for a confessional area with privacy and physical distancing respected.
All holy water fonts should remain empty, with all entrance and exit doors kept open, and hand sanitisers at each. Churches should be cleaned regularly, including after every gathering.
Public health advice
Dioceses and parishes should at all times follow the most up-to-date public health advice and associated regulations and obligations when it comes to public worship, the bishops have said.
Physical distancing rules must be strictly obeyed, along with good hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and regular cleaning and sanitising of shared spaces to reduce the spread of Covid-19, they went on.
Public attendance at all places of worship, including churches, may commence after June 29th next, according to the Government roadmap.
Every parish is advised to establish a Covid-19 support team to organise all public ceremonies and oversee safety implementation.
They hoped, the bishops said, “to slowly and cautiously resume public worship in our churches, knowing that it can only happen in a limited way. We will still need patience, perseverance and self-sacrifice.”
They were also “very conscious of the demands that this transition will place upon our priests, many of whom may still need to remain shielded from the virus.”
The bishops' guidelines "make very good sense", said Fr Roy Donovan, of the Association for Catholic Priests leadership team, showing that they had consulted widely, and with experts.
Many older parishioners, and priests over 70, may prefer weekday Masses to those on Sundays to avoid the danger of being in churches with large numbers.
Bishop Francis Lagan
In Derry, retired Auxiliary Bishop Francis Lagan (85) has died. First Auxiliary Bishop there, he served from 1988 to 2010. Catholic Primate and fellow Derry priest Archbishop Eamon Martin recalled Bishop Lagan as "a strong advocate for peace and reconciliation, having witnessed first-hand the terrible violence and heartbreak endured by people during the Troubles".
The late bishop “also understood the joys and struggles of his brother priests who often had to minister in the midst of great challenge, grief and community unrest.” He was “a caring brother priest and a gentle shepherd”.
Bishop Lagan is survived by his brother Brian, sisters Tilly (McVey) and Mary (Cassidy), and extended family.