Government advice more about parties than sacraments, curate says

No law is being broken as ceremonies planned for September, says Blarney priest

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meets 3rd class pupils from St Brigid’s Girls National School in Glasnevin who made their Communion last week as a small group, after it had been cancelled four times. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin meets 3rd class pupils from St Brigid’s Girls National School in Glasnevin who made their Communion last week as a small group, after it had been cancelled four times. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Fr Gabriel Burke has not yet received the opinion of his bishop, but he knows what side of the argument he stands on regarding First Holy Communion and Confirmation ceremonies.

“You can have 100 people at a wedding, it makes no sense not to do First Holy Communions where you have less than 100,” the Blarney-based curate told The Irish Times on Tuesday.

Both Holy Communions and Confirmations will go ahead in Blarney in September, but with strict social distancing rules, including masks, sanitisers and a ban on the gathering of crowds.

The letter from Taoiseach Micheál Martin calling for these ceremonies to not go ahead was advice only, not an instruction, said Fr Burke, therefore no law was being broken by going ahead now.

“I think they have to treat adults like adults and let people make up their own decisions. They have to just say, like they’re doing in England, ‘These are the facts, this is what you have to do, and it’s up to you.’”

Fr Gabriel Burke says the letter from Taoiseach Micheál Martin calling for Holy Communions and Confirmations to not go ahead is advice only, not an instruction.
Fr Gabriel Burke

Pushing back on the idea that such ceremonies are unsafe, Fr Burke suggested the Government’s advice had more to do with post-ceremony parties, rather than the ceremonies themselves.

“People know not to party this year. People are sensible enough not to put others at risk. They may have a small family gathering, maybe granny would be allowed in, but I can’t see bouncy castles and things like that,” he said.

Sacristan for St Lachteen’s Church in Grenagh, Joe Murphy, agreed, but called for consistent conduct: “It doesn’t make sense. It makes no difference at this stage with half the country doing them and the other half not.

“All they’re really worried about is the parties. People are sensible enough to reduce the crowds,” he said, while his wife, Tina, agreed. “What they’re talking about is the parties afterwards, 100 per cent,” she said.

Unlike Blarney, there were no plans in Grenagh for First Communion or Confirmation ceremonies, said Mr Murphy, saying that further clarification was required.

In Charleville, parish priest Fr Donal O’Mahony said the Catholic Church had “an obligation under God” to provide the sacraments – which “are the gift of God” – to people and “to guide them on their journey of faith”.

Like Grenagh, he has no plans to go ahead but dislikes the restrictions: “It would have been a lovely grace for them to be able to receive the sacraments and to have [a] moment of joy and happiness in their life. It’s a great pity.”

In Stradbally, Co Laois, the parish priest, Fr Gerard Breen, said this “is kind of not a black and white issue”, though he found the bishops’ decision to challenge the Government’s regulations “interesting”.

Distinction

A distinction should be made between Holy Communion and Confirmations, he said, as Holy Communion children would still be in the national school in the coming year, so “there’s not as much maybe urgency” about them.

However, the Confirmation children are different, as their primary classes have already split up at the end of national school and they will be going, in some places, to different secondary schools next year.

One size fits all rules did not work, Fr Breen said, since he knew every school and every church in his parish and also knew how ceremonies could be safely held in those churches.

Confirmations would be safer than a trip to Dunnes Stores: “Fifty people will be allowed to be at weddings [from August 5th] in both a church and a hotel, and yet we can’t have 10 children making their confirmation?

“So, if you can explain that logic to me then I’d love to know,” he said, “The time has come for us to be allowed to do these ceremonies because they are sacraments. We believe these are huge rights of ritual in the life of young people.

“They ought to be ritualised and celebrated. And, I mean, we must never forget that the children, in fact, are the ones who suffer the most when it comes to this postponing of their ceremony, you know,” he said.

Younger children know that “everything was normal” for their brothers and sisters: “They are the odd ones out. So much stress has been put on them that this is one more kind of burden for them to carry at such a tender age.”