Dympna Maguire was in no doubt about how she felt after attending her first Mass of 2021 in Dublin's Pro Cathedral this morning. It was celebrated by Fr Rene Esoy before a congregation of about 20 people. "It's absolutely fantastic," she said.
Not that she was stuck for Mass since last December. She watched it "on the tablet every morning. I've been everywhere," she said. This included "Mass in Skerries every morning and the chaplet [using rosary beads] at 3pm in different churches. I got EWTN, a Catholic channel, and then I got the children's rosary in the evening. But it wasn't the same as actually being there," she said.
Not that she is a regular at the Pro Cathedral, "I'm from Raheny, but when I'm in town I always come in and light my candles," she said. Christopher Cullen from Artane was every bit as happy. "It's great to be back. Please God everything will work out. I missed it terrible," he said.
He too had been following daily Mass on webcam during the lockdown "at home in the bedroom. I usually get Mass from Singapore. There's a bishop [who] usually does it, it's lovely. It's not rushed. It's terrible not getting it. It's the receiving [Communion] that's the problem, even though you do your prayers and all."
Ms Young (first name omitted) is a regular at the Pro Cathedral, having been "born and reared around here". She thought it "lovely" to be able to attend Mass again. "I thought this morning would never come to tell you the truth. I missed it terrible now, I really missed it terrible," she said.
At St Teresa's Church on Clarendon Street in Dublin worshippers were as enthusiastic. Annetta and Ciarán Maguire from Clondalkin were among the about 25 people there. "Watching on the webcam was great but it's not the same. You don't have the atmosphere," said Ciarán.
Anetta told this reporter “it’s like talking to you or reading you in the paper, a different thing. I’m very grateful to be back. It’s the greatest gift we have .”
Ann Carr said it was "unreal, really. It'll take a little bit of adjusting. We have been watching it online from Clarendon Street. My husband likes Clarendon Street so I came in today to have my hair done as well."
So did Noreen Doran O'Reilly from Kilteel in Co Kildare. "I came into Dublin today just to get my hair done and I was passing by. I always go into Clarendon Street to say a prayer. I was delighted to get Mass – I didn't think Mass would be on until next Sunday – because I have missed Mass over the past few months. I prefer it live," she said.
Saddest was Josef Xavier from Kerela in India. He had the strongest motives for attending one of the first public Masses in Ireland of 2021. It was "a very difficult time" for his family in India where three have Covid, he said, "two in hospital now, in ICU, one of them is on a ventilator."
Back at the Pro Cathedral, administrator Fr Kieran McDermott said his feelings on the return of public Masses were “relief and happiness, to be able to welcome people back”.
It was “a big ask for the people, for the church in general, not to have people here. They seemed to have managed in other continental settings, where people were allowed to attend in small numbers and be socially distanced. Anyway the church always will adhere to and be an example of best practice in following the public health advice,” he said.
But the long lockdown since Christmas did deliver an unexpected silver lining. "Our webcam provider has told us that, Monday to Saturday, we have 6,500 people on devices daily. That went up to 8,800 on a Sunday or a holy day. We weren't anticipating that. They also told us the reach was wide: Ireland, Northern Ireland, nine countries in Europe and even hits from as far away as Australia, Canada, the United States and Dubai, " he said.
As to the future “the services now will always be broadcast. What’s happened is that there’s been an explosion of webcams in churches. Of course they will continue,” he said.
Because of its size the Pro Cathedral is allowed two pods of 50 people each at public Masses. “It seems small. We could fit another 34 if we were allowed, wearing masks and keeping to two metres,” he said.
Following the first lockdown, numbers at Masses there grew every week so that by December last “we had reached our capacity on Sundays. The chief medical officer has said we have reason to be confident, we’re getting our vaccines, and that will create its own dynamic,” he said.