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Bishops to release guidance to parishes on returning to public worship

By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 May, 2020

The Bishops are set to release a Draft Framework document on the return of churches to public worship with checklists for parishes to help them prepare for their reopening by 20th July.

In a message to priests and parishes about preparing for public worship, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, “It is important that we as Church are ready to respond to any change in the current proposed timescale”.

He said there was “a longing” among believers “to be able to return to public worship and towards building up Christian communities”.

Dr Martin paid tribute to the way parishes have been “working creatively in reaching out during this complex lockdown situation” but he also acknowledged “we need to move beyond the virtual”.

As Christians, Archbishop Martin said, “we suffer through not being able to celebrate our faith through public worship” and he said there was a clear recognition by believers and many non-believers alike that in the process of healing and grieving, “as we journey through these difficult times, faith and spiritual experience constitute an important contribution in sustaining people’s personal and mental wellbeing”.

The void brought about by the pandemic, he said, was especially experienced by priests.

“Priests share in the anxiousness of all believers and in addition they find themselves unable to carry out to the full what is most essential in their calling. Priests are called to break the bread of the Scriptures and of the Body and Blood of the Lord in nourishing and being nourished by the Christian communities entrusted to their ministry. As Archbishop, I experience that void in a deep way.”

Noting how over the past weeks, all over Ireland, parishes have begun working on plans to be ready to open their churches as soon as it is safe to do so, Archbishop Martin thanked those Dublin parishes who had responded to his request to develop a plan to be ready to open at the appropriate moment, while respecting social distancing and public hygiene.

The Bishops, he revealed, had pooled suggestions from each diocese and had drawn up a first Draft Framework document.

The Standing Committee of the Bishops Conference examined this Framework on Monday and is working on producing a shorter and sharper document, with checklists to enable parishes to monitor where they are on the path forward.

This document, Dr Martin said, should be available in the next days.

Referring to the Government’s Roadmap and the constant evaluating of progress towards reopening society, Archbishop Martin said it was important that the Church is ready to respond to any change in the current proposed timescale.

“We have to examine how our desires can be measured within the overall public health situation. It is not that we place public health measures above our spiritual mission.”

He reminded priests and parishes of the words Pope Francis said when he greeted of the opening of churches in Italy: “but please, let us proceed respecting the norms, the prescriptions we are given to safeguard the health of each individual and the people”. 

He also echoed the words of the Archbishop of Boston as churches in his diocese were preparing to “proceed patiently and with caution” towards reopening for public worship: No matter what the start date, no parish should have Mass unless they can do it safely”. 

The Archbishop thanked “all those who have been sustaining and supporting the ministry of the Church in these times” and told them that they have been making “a unique contribution to building up the Church”.

Live streaming of Masses and Services from churches in Ireland and the UK can be found here: http://churchservices.tv

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