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Post COVID-19 brings the small congregation, mask, and Perspex to Mass

By Ann Marie Foley - 16 June, 2020

Fr Michael Toomey celebrates Mass on 17 March 2020 at SS Peter and Paul’s church in the presence of the Mayor of Clonmel, Cllr Garret Ahearn. Pic: John D. Kelly.

The congregation in one Tipperary church will be reduced by more than two-thirds when Mass is allowed in the next phase of easing COVID-19 restrictions. Priests will use face masks, sanitisers and Perspex screens and there will be “tap and go” donation facilities when the church opens for Sunday Mass.

SS Peter & Paul’s Church in Clonmel usually had 680 seats available during Mass, but when social distancing is taken into account there will be around 100 spaces. A “space” will accommodate one individual or one family of three or four, so this means that up to 200 people may be present when the church reopens for Sunday Mass.

This is according to Fr Michael Toomey, who told catholicireland.net: “That is our church. Every church is going to be different.”

He explained that there is a task force in his diocese (Waterford and Lismore) looking at all options and giving advice to parishes. “At the end of the day, it is up to each local parish to make its own decisions,” he said.

There is no easy way to know how many people will turn up for the first Mass or how to facilitate those who will not fit into the church.

“We could have one or two scenarios – one, a lot of people stay away because they are still nervous about coming out. Two, we could have a lot of people coming back to Mass because we are noticing online a new influx of people.”

In Clonmel town there is a Mass every half-hour, so it may be possible if one church is full to advise people where the next Mass is on.

Every parish and diocese in the country is making similar calculations and arrangements according to Fr Toomey, who issued an appeal to parishioners and the community to help with reopening the church for its first Mass with a physical congregation in over three months. This will be on 5 July 2020, which is the first Sunday in phase 3 of reopening Ireland beginning on 29 June 2020.

There are plans for stewards and what Fr Toomey calls “Ministers of Welcome” to help outside and in the churches with directing people on which door to enter and to show people the available seats to ensure that everyone is safe.

It is early days yet in the reopening planning, but some parishioners have asked members of the local GAA to help. Fr Toomey stated that they might commit to helping at one Mass or every second Mass.

Fr Michael Toomey. Pic: RTÉ

The bottom line is that until the first Mass is held on 5 July 2020 there is no certainty.

“We won’t really be able to judge everything until after 5th July,” said Fr Toomey. “Everything is a plan and you can change that plan as the need arises.”

Initially, only priests will distribute the Eucharist in Clonmel, so Ministers for the Eucharist will not be involved at the start. Priests will use masks and hand sanitisers and a Perspex screen will also be in use.

There will be a need for teams to clean the church regularly. Collection boxes will be placed on the way out of the church, as baskets cannot be passed from hand to hand. The church also has “tap and go” facilities for donations.

“It may be a different experience when coming to Mass again, but it will have Christ at its centre, and the people of God gathered around the altar. That in itself is worth more than any challenge or inconvenience we face in the days ahead. Keep safe, and God bless,” said Fr Toomey.

He said that people will be listened to and the plan will be adapted as necessary. He appealed for people to have patience while all this is happening.

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