Sharp rise in Covid infections justifies restrictions on Masses, says Archbishop

Advance bookings for Christmas Masses may be necessary, according to Diarmuid Martin

Restrictions on public worship can be justified “in situations of a sharp rise in the numbers contracting the [Covid-19

)]virus” Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has said.

“This has been reasserted in these days in Great Britain and by French courts,” he said.

The restrictions, however, "should be limited to the shortest period necessary," he said. Currently, under Level 5 regulations, Masses and other forms of public worship may not take place in Ireland, although places of worship can remain open for private prayer.

Co Galway-based businessman Declan Ganley, a practising Catholic, has initiated a High Court action alleging Level 5 regulations breach his constitutional right to religious freedom.

Last Sunday, during an online Mass broadcast on Ocean FM, Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran called on parishioners to contact local representatives to allow people to attend church services in person.

Reflecting on the current pandemic situation in Ireland, Archbishop Martin said "indications are that these measures are having some effect on controlling the spread of the virus, but this is not yet the case in some parts of county Dublin".

It was “vital that everyone takes his or her responsibilities seriously and that we work together in curbing the virus. None of us is to second-guess the severity of the situation. None of us is authorised to self-exempt from the public norms. None of us is authorised to place people’s health at risk,” he said.

He recalled how on October 28th the four Catholic Archbishops met Taoiseach Micheal Martin “regarding reopening Churches for public worship at the earliest opportunity”.

“While being sympathetic to our request, the Taoiseach did not feel in a position make any definitive commitment at this moment,” he said.

He thought it "interesting to note that Pope Francis has ceased holding his weekly general audience in public and has noted that his Christmas liturgies will be celebrated with very limited public attendance".

Archbishop Martin believed that “one way or another, for the foreseeable future public participation at Masses will remain limited. This is the situation in which we will have to live and carry out ministry for the coming months and possibly even longer”.

Looking ahead, he felt the numbers attending Christmas Masses this year may be well down while booking in advance may be considered. He thought it “likely and indeed understandable that the numbers of those who will be permitted to attend religious services over the Christmas period will be restricted”.

People “will wish to attend Christmas Mass, though the numbers may not be huge. Many people will still be anxious about attending any large gathering of people,” he said.

It was expected Level 5 regulations may be relaxed in the first weeks of December, he said but added he believed it possible “restrictive measures may have to be imposed again after Christmas”.

Archbishop Martin noted how in the United States it was being suggested "that a greater number of Masses be celebrated on Christmas Day " and that "in order to avoid people having to be turned away from churches, the idea of some form of advanced booking might be proposed. People might be encouraged to attend Mass on different days during Christmas week".

Families with children, he suggested, could be encouraged “to visit the Christmas crib for private prayer.”

Due to Covid-19 the traditional RDS Christmas Day lunch for the homeless would not take place this year, he said, but that “a number of central distribution points will provide take-away food for the homeless on Christmas Day”. He encouraged parishes to reach out to the homeless and the lonely on Christmas Day.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times