By Cian Molloy - 20 August, 2020
From cover-your-head to cover-your-face: a good Christian should wear a face covering over their mouth and nose during Mass or during other religious services, say Church leaders.
“It is our responsibility to ensure that our services of worship are safe,” said the heads of Ireland’s four main Christian denominations – Catholic primate Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John McDowell, Presbyterian Moderator Rev David Bruce and Methodist Church President Rev Tom McKnight.
The Church leaders acknowledged that neither the Dublin nor the Stormont governments have made the wearing of face masks mandatory at services of worship and they attributed this to the fact that Christian communities are committed to maintaining two-metres physical distancing between household groups and to strictly adhering to government guidance on hand-hygiene, cleaning, ventilation, etc. Notably, the Church leaders’ statement does not use the word ‘mask’ at all, referring only to ‘face coverings’.
Nevertheless, the four leaders said in their joint statement issued yesterday evening: “It has become increasingly clear that the wearing of face coverings, in conjunction with hand washing etc., is likely to reduce the spread of coronavirus, thus helping to protect others. Their use is therefore one way in which we can evidence protection for the most vulnerable, support for our health workers, and practical love for our neighbours.
“Following further recent consultations with public health authorities, we join with Christian church leaders all over this island in formally recommending and encouraging the use of face coverings at all services of worship, along with the ongoing maintenance of 2 metre physical distancing, from Sunday 30th August 2020, and earlier if practicable.”
The joint statement recognises that there are some people who ‘are exempted from the wearing of face coverings’ and that ‘it may not be appropriate for those who are leading from the front during worship, including preaching, to wear face covering’. In such cases, people should always maintain a two-metre physical distance from one another and that preachers and celebrants need to be at least four metres away from those in the front row of the congregation.
This guidance has already been put into effect in many parishes that are asking worshippers to wear masks before entering Church buildings.
Indeed, wearing coverings is nothing new to Catholics: before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, women had to wear a head covering when receiving the Eucharist – a practice that had been a Church norm since the Councils of Autun in the seventh century.
Earlier yesterday Bishop Francis Brennan issued a ‘wear a mask’ request to the people of the Ferns diocese, saying: “In solidarity with the vast majority of our fellow citizens who actively promote and pursue as safe an environment as possible, I strongly recommend the wearing of face-coverings as public Masses and services continue in addition to the continuation of social distancing and sanitising in all of our diocesan churches and buildings.”
Bishop Brennan finished his request by adding: “May I ask you to remember in your prayers those who have been affected by the virus and our frontline workers, including priests.”