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Hopes are growing that more than 50 will be allowed celebrate Mass together

By Cian Molloy - 27 June, 2020

Talks are continuing between government and church representatives to have the 50 person limited lifted on indoor religious gatherings when public worship resumes on Monday.

The primate of all-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh says he believes an attitude of ‘collective responsibility’ will ensure the safe reopening of churches when collective worship resumes this Monday, 29 June.

A spokesperson for the Dublin Archdiocese told CatholicIreland.net that talks with health officials and government representatives on agreeing protocols were continuing. Already, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin has congratulated his priests and parishes on the work they have undertaken to prepare for the reopening of Churches.

The leader of Ireland’s most populous diocese, which also has the country’s largest number of large churches, said that he was hopeful that, following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, an announcement lifting the 50 person limit would be made yesterday but, at the time of writing this article, there was no sign of such an announcement.

However, the outgoing Health Minister Simon Harris has acknowledged that larger churches can safely accommodate larger numbers of people. He admitted: “I know how much their faith matters to many people. We don’t want anyone getting sick at Mass, but common sense needs to prevail.”

If the limitation is relaxed as expected, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said, to effectively protect the health of worshippers, parishes will need to have already worked out what is the maximum number that their churches and chapels can accommodate according to whatever regulations on social distancing are in place.

COVID-19 signage being distrubed to parishes in the Clonfert Diocese.

“This number should be made public and the number should be displayed at the entry doors to a church,” he said and he cautioned: “We should be prudent with numbers in the early days to allow us time to get some experience of managing numbers. Each parish must however be clear about its responsibility to guarantee that numbers are respected.

“Larger numbers become more difficult to manage and could indeed increase the risk of contagion, especially as people leave the church or in car parks where social distancing could easily break down.”

A key issue for Catholic parishes to consider is how they should manage reception of Holy Communion: should the faithful process to the altar to receive, as was the practice before COVID-19, or should Eucharistic ministers move to where the faithful are kneeling.

I do not favour the idea of people being called row by row to come for Holy Communion,” Dr Martin said. “This inevitably leads to people who really do not want to receive Holy Communion feeling obliged to come forward.”

In Clonfert, as series of training videos have been made available via Facebook and YouTube to help parishes prepare for the reopening of churches.

Viewable here these videos cover: COVID-19 church stewarding, COVID-19 church cleaning, COVID-19 use of personal protection, COVID-19 hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing, COVID-19 communications and signage and COVID-19 distribution of Holy Communion.

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