By Katie Ascough - 21 March, 2020
The Catholic bishops of Munster have composed a statement of encouragement in the face of massive disruption because of the Covid-19 crisis. They wish to “offer words of support and indicate some directions”.
They acknowledge the “generous spirit of social responsibility” which has been shown by many. They acknowledge all of the sacrifice this entails for individuals, families, businesses, parish communities and the wider society.
They note the helpfulness of the HSE guidelines and encourage everyone to give them maximum effort and attention.
On behalf of the people of their seven dioceses, the bishops of Munster express gratitude to those working in healthcare, the services relating to healthcare and public services dealing with the fall-out from the virus. The bishops say they are grateful for the spirit of volunteering on the part of many in local communities and on social media.
“The past week has been extraordinary,” the bishops state. “Despite the difficult loss of Sunday and weekday public celebration of Mass, people have been able to find some comfort and support in spiritual communion with the Masses being celebrated by priests every day. It has been uplifting to see how many have accessed media outlets to follow Mass, take part in prayer moments, and seek out other prayer and religious resources online.
“It has been a time to discover the value of quiet time of prayer in the home and prayer as a family, ‘the Domestic Church’. We have heard from many who are very grateful that churches have remained open. Indeed, priests have told us of a constant presence of individuals calling into churches for moments of prayer and recollection.”
The bishops also express gratitude to all priests, especially those who are elderly and may have health concerns themselves. “As well as celebrating Mass daily for the intentions of all the faithful,” the bishops say, “priests have put new arrangements in place in order to be able to communicate pastorally through telephone and social media.”
They recognise the challenges priests face in their desire to reach out pastorally while always mindful of the public health recommendations. The bishops call on priests, especially those who are elderly and vulnerable, to take care also of themselves at this time. “Their ministry of prayer, blessing and support is valuable and needed, even if it is necessary to curtail to an absolute minimum direct pastoral contact with others.”
The bishops highlight that a particular concern is the issue of funerals. In their view, attendance at funerals should be restricted to the immediate family and very close friends. While the desire to offer condolences is commendable — indeed, a work of mercy — condolences can be expressed in the form of a letter, a text message or an email.
“The Covid-19 crisis will pass and there will be other possibilities for Mass or prayers to be said for those who die during this period. Such Masses and prayers will allow for people who cannot now come physically to the church to then come and offer their condolences.”
They recommend that all Catholic funeral liturgies in their dioceses be limited to the funeral Mass. That is, there should be no removal to the church the evening before and they strongly advise that the priest celebrating the funeral Mass should be the only priest officiating.
“We give this advice on the basis of the widespread concern that everyone does their part to contain the virus. Mass should not be offered in family homes even in the circumstance of a bereavement. Normally, priests are advised against visiting homes at this time because priests themselves may be carriers of the virus without knowing it or the virus may be in the house,” they state.
Regarding the Sacrament of the Sick to the dying, also known as Last Rites, which may be even more critical than healthcare for some, the bishops state that it is essential that the priest should use a cotton bud or surgical glove for the anointing with Holy Oil and dispose of them appropriately, and the rite should be administered while at a distance of one metre.
“It is important to follow recommendations on hand hygiene after the celebration of the Sacrament,” the bishops continue. “The priest should avoid contact with others in the home of the person who is seriously ill. It is clear that some priests will themselves, because of their health condition or age, feel unable to attend to the sick person in their local parish. They may need to call on another priest from elsewhere to celebrate the Sacrament.”
In conclusion, the bishops recall Saint Paul’s words in the Letter to the Ephesians, saying we are called to a spirit of solidarity “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, to bear with one another in love,” (Eph 4:1-2).