A Dublin parish priest has appealed to the Catholic bishops to advise that all Masses in Ireland at Christmas take place online. "The best and safest solution is for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses to be online only, with churches open after for people, families ," Fr Adrian Egan said.
Parish priest at Our Lady of the Assumption parish in Ballyfermot, he said "I know these things can be decided locally, but it would be better coming from the bishops."
It was usually the case at Christmas Masses that “you’d have people hanging out of the rafters”. This year he would “be anxious” about such overcrowding “and turning people away”, he said. It was also the case that his two other priest colleagues in the parish were well over 70.
About 35 people “of an age” attended the 10am Mass there on Tuesday.
On Monday evening, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), of which Fr Egan is a member, tweeted it had received a “significant volume” of phone calls and messages from priests articulating anxiety and concern about the return to worship following the ending of Level 5 restrictions and the difficulties faced by parishes in mustering stewards and volunteers for churches and car parks at Christmas time.
In Co Limerick, Fr Roy Donovan, parish priest at Caherconlish and a member of the ACP leadership team, said he was finding it "quite difficult to get volunteers" to implement Covid-19 restrictions at their church, which has a capacity of between 400 and 500.
He too is worried about Christmas Masses and the matter is to be discussed at a parish pastoral council meeting on Thursday. It will decide whether to introduce a booking system for Christmas Masses, involving the issuing of tickets for allocated seats in advance.
“People could call and book, on a designated phone number,” he said.
The council may also decide to put on extra Masses. “We’ve stopped anniversary Masses on Sundays to avoid overcrowding,” he added.
When Masses resumed during the summer following the previous lockdown, “a lot of people didn’t come back. They were afraid. But as time went on the numbers began to increase again,” he noted.