Bishops set to decide on return of obligation to attend Sunday Mass

Catholics in Archdiocese ‘living through dark days’, says Archbishop of Dublin

The arrival of the Omicron Covid-19 variant is likely to   influence Ireland’s Catholic bishops in arriving at their decision on the matter. Photograph: iStock

The arrival of the Omicron Covid-19 variant is likely to influence Ireland’s Catholic bishops in arriving at their decision on the matter. Photograph: iStock

 

Ireland’s Catholic bishops will decide this week whether to reintroduce the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, first suspended due to the pandemic in spring of last year.

Last week Scotland’s Catholic bishops announced that the obligation would be reintroduced from January 2nd.

However, the announcement that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus had been discovered in southern Africa is likely to influence Ireland’s Catholic bishops in arriving at their decision on the matter during their winter 2021 meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Meanwhile, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell has spoken of “living through a very testing time”. In a pastoral letter for Advent 2021 he said “sickness and death resulting from the Covid-19 virus have taken a heavy toll. The necessary restrictions on everyday life have at times been very hard to bear.”

He speaks of his admiration for healthcare staff and other vital workers while expressing gratitude “for the remarkable success of those developing vaccines and treatments has been tempered by a growing realisation that there is no easy or simple solution for this crisis”.

Catholics in the Archdiocese were also “living through dark days”, he said. “We confront immense challenges, not least that the dominant culture is hostile to faith, while there is much in our story that discourages and even repels many people.”

As Christians, he said, they remained “hopeful, despite the immensity of these challenges, some of which have become even more stark as a result of the coronavirus crisis.”

Last week a report on the Archdiocese disclosed that almost half of its 312 priests are over 70 with just two students preparing for priesthood. It means 139 of Dublin will have retired by 2026, leaving 173 to serve Dublin’s 1.1 million Catholics in 197 parishes.

The Building Hope Task Force was set up by Archbishop Farrell last March to plan for the church’s future in Dublin and its report was published last week. It concluded that “many hard decisions cannot be avoided” and that “the archdiocese in Dublin is at a time of great change”.

It found the pandemic “accentuated systemic challenges facing the church in Dublin where restrictions on attendance at Mass impacted on the finances of every parish and damaged the financial sustainability of the archdiocese”.

In his pastoral letter Archbishop Farrell said the task force “received views and suggestions from over 3,000 people, the vast majority of them laypeople involved in different ways and to different degrees in the life of the Church”.

He was reflecting on the task force recommendations, he said.

“We draw strength from what has been built up. But we are not afraid to craft new wineskins to carry the new wine of the Good News to those who thirst for it today,” he said. He also invited Catholics in Dublin “to use this season of Advent as a time of prayer and reflection to prepare ourselves spiritually for the challenge of renewal”.