By Ann Marie Foley - 30 June, 2020
“We have been buried for three months in the reality of closed churches. Over the next days, the stone will be rolled back. As with Jesus, it will be to a new way of being alive and being the Body of Christ,” said Bishop Donal McKeown, Diocese of Derry.
Church leaders and mass goers have felt both joyful and emotional as they gathered physically for the first Masses when churches reopened on Monday 29 June.
Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh Diocese and Primate of All Ireland stated: “It is such a joy to gather physically for Mass today as well as to join virtually with many others who are participating over webcam.”
He thanked God for the webcam and social media which helped sustain the life of prayer during the lockdown.
“During this difficult period, some people felt drawn to God in a new way and actually found themselves praying more and being called to make changes in their lives for the better,” he said.
Bishop Phonsie Cullinan of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore welcomed the return to the public celebration of Mass and the sacraments and stated that the past few months have been very challenging and stressful for everyone.
“Priests have had to celebrate in empty churches, and many of our priests were also cocooning. It has been a difficult time for the faithful who have had to endure lockdown and lack of access to the Sacraments. These times have been especially difficult for families who have lost loved ones and who could not celebrate funeral liturgies in the normal way,” he said.
He urged people that as they return to “a more normal form of Church life”, they remember these families and pray for the repose of the souls of their loved ones.
Bishop Larry Duffy, Diocese of Clogher, said that he thanked God for bringing everyone safely through the COVID-19 crisis to this day. He quoted the prayer after communion for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, stating: “May all of us, whether we are in the church building or still watching online from home or work, be in communion with Christ and with each other. May we be renewed so that ‘through the breaking of the Bread and the teaching of the Apostles, we may be one heart and one soul, made steadfast’ in the love of the Lord.”
In his homily at the first Mass with people physically present, Bishop Donal McKeown, Diocese of Derry, speaking of the Resurrection said: “We have been buried for three months in the reality of closed churches. Over the next days, the stone will be rolled back. As with Jesus, it will be to a new way of being alive and being the Body of Christ. As happened 2,000 years ago, Resurrection will not be easy to understand. But, as with Jesus, this new form of ‘resurrection’ is a call to come together so that we can be sent out.”
He said that Jesus is calling parishes to look again at how to have missionary hearts today. “The opening of our church buildings is about letting people in – so that God’s grace can pour out again over our hurting community and over those who thirst to hear the prophetic voice that speaks of God’s audacious dream for us,” he said.
All of the bishops remembered and thanked those who are working on the front line to save the lives of others, and to those who prepared the churches and the stewards who were present for re-opening.
Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, sent a Pastoral Letter to the People of Dublin and Glendalough, stating: “I trust that the ongoing involvement of church people in their everyday living will continue to contribute to the new sense of neighbourliness and kindness that has come to the fore in the darkest days of COVID-19. I thank all in our parish communities who have continued to ‘be the church’ while church buildings have been closed.”
He thanked front-line workers for their tireless work and selfless commitment.
“I encourage all members of our church communities to take the opportunity being presented to us by the re-opening of church doors to open our hearts to the needs of our society as together we all emerge from a very deep darkness into new light,” he stated.
At one minute past midnight on Monday 29 June 2020, Church of Ireland parishioners gathered for the re-opening of All Saints’ Church in Raheny and the Church of St John the Evangelist in Coolock, after 15 weeks of lockdown.
Yellow ribbons were cut, prayers were said and candles of ‘Hope and Healing’ were lit to celebrate the beginning of a new phase of parish life.
“The onslaught of COVID-19 and the closure of our churches brought hardship and sadness but also brought us closer together as a community. We found new ways of connecting and rediscovering that being church is not all about the buildings. Nevertheless, we are delighted to open the doors and worship together again, albeit with bleary eyes in the early hours of the morning. We re-open with hope, with a renewed sense of purpose and with an openness to God doing new things among us,” said the Rector, the Revd Norman McCausland.