Do our Covid rulemakers realise the importance of worship?

Amid curbs on gathering, religious belief and expression matter the most for many people

If we are believers, if we have faith, if we subscribe to a religion, we are not currently permitted to attend public worship.

If we are believers, if we have faith, if we subscribe to a religion, we are not currently permitted to attend public worship.

 

It might seem strange and disrespectful to compare God and groceries.

But there is a reason for doing just that. And that reason has been provided by the pandemic.

Right now, we can go our local shop and buy food, alcohol and, hopefully, a newspaper and anything else deemed “essential”. We can head off to our closest large supermarket and walk the aisles with dozens of other shoppers to stock up on groceries or, like many you see at weekends, on cans of beer.

Helpful staff will tell us where certain products are, keep the shelves stacked and operate the tills. It’s all permitted under Level-5 restrictions.

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Paddy Murray has been a journalist for almost 50 years, working on many Irish newspapers and serving as editor of the Sunday Tribune for three years. He describes himself as a practising Catholic with reservations

If we are stopped by gardaí on the way there or back all we have to do is say “We’re just getting the groceries” and we’ll be waved on.

But if we were to say, “We’re going to Mass or to the mosque”, there might be a different response. Because if we are believers, if we have faith, if we subscribe to a religion, we are not currently permitted to attend public worship.

Whether we are Catholics or Protestants or Christians of some other denomination, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or any other religion, we cannot attend regular religious services.

Apart altogether from the fact that many places of worship are vastly bigger than your average supermarket, there is another aspect of the ban on worship which seems to have escaped the attention of those making the rules.

Paddy Murray

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For many people of faith, religious services and the comfort provided by public worship are more important than stocking up on potatoes, breakfast cereal or wine. In short, for believers, God is more important than anything else.

Essential role

I know that’s hard for non-believers to grasp. It’s actually hard for believers to grasp. But, for many, belief is an essential part of their lives.

St Matthew told us we couldn’t serve God and mammon, clearly suggesting there was no contest. God came first. And that is the way it is for many believers even if they are doubters or Catholics troubled by the scandals which have been exposed over the years and by the way the church deals with our gay brothers and sisters and women in general.

For many, religious services and public worship are more important than potatoes, breakfast cereal or wine

By now, of course, the mockers will be typing away furiously about how those of faith believe in an imaginary being, the flying spaghetti monster or whatever other term they wish to use. They can do so.

But it won’t alter the fact that those of many faiths believe worship to be a crucially important part of their lives. They see people piling into supermarkets while their places of worship remain closed for services.

There are many other places, of vital importance to many people, which are shuttered and closed, like bookshops, theatres and cinemas. Personally, I miss our music venues. I now have a collection of 17 unused tickets for gigs all over Dublin which were cancelled or postponed due to Covid-19.

Religious services

That has all been explained. We can’t gather or leave home to do things or go places where others might gather, unless absolutely necessary.

But do those who make the rules realise how important worship is for many, many people in this country? Do they realise that for those of faith, attending services is necessary? I don’t think so.

Small numbers could be allowed into large places of worship without risk if the supervision was strict

Do they grasp the fact that for many, their beliefs matter more than anything else? I don’ t believe they do.

It’s 2021. I know religion is no longer where it was. It no longer rules the lives of everyone in the country as it once did. And that’s a good thing. But I also believe that casting it aside altogether, ignoring those for whom it is the purpose of life is, at best, unfair.

Maybe small numbers could be allowed into large places of worship without risk if the supervision was strict. Indeed, these days small numbers are all you tend to get at Sunday Mass in Ireland.

If gardaí can raid shebeens, they can visit places of worship to ensure rules are being obeyed. Cue mockery and derision.

Well, at least that’s still allowed.

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