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Restrictions on Mass gatherings eased – More than 50 worshippers allowed where it is safe

By Cian Molloy - 04 July, 2020

New protocols that will allow more than 50 people to attend Mass together have been welcomed by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

The archbishop said parishes will work diligently to observe the new norms to ensure people can attend Mass safely.

In  particular the Archbishop called on parishioners to note note that  the use of face coverings is ‘strongly recommended for  indoor settings’.

He said that, while these norms do limit a more  joyful return to the public celebration of the sacraments people have longed for, the protocols approved by a cabinet committee on Friday are important steps forward and vital for the common good of all.

Under the guidance agreed by the cabinet committee, indoor gatherings of more than 50 are permitted where there is sufficient capacity, where social distancing guidelines are adhered to , where the premises is subdivided into distinct sections – with no more than 50 people in each section and each section having its own entrance/exit route.

In the case of Catholics, separate arrangements have to be made for the distribution of Communion and other occasions where close contact may occur.

Premises must be well-ventilated and there can be no movement of people between seperate sections before, during or after the service.

Before the government announcement, CatholicIreland.net looked at how various parishes around the country were preparing for their first public celebration of the Eucharist.

In Cork and Ross, Fr Tom Hayes said some parishes were thinking of not opening their doors on Sunday because they would rather than that the prospect of having to turn people away.

Fr Hayes said: “Priests are sympathetic to the need to maintain good public health controls – unfortunately, most of us have already buried someone who has died because of COVID-19.”

In Wicklow, parish secretary Debbie Hanlon said it was planned to go ahead with public celebrations of Mass on Sunday. “If they issue a protocol at the last moment that allows more than 50 in with two-metre distancing, we are ready for that,” she said.

Wicklow parish has recruited additional volunteers to act as stewards – six at every Mass – and there is a strict policy for sanitizing St Patrick’s church after every Mass.   There is also a strong reminder being given to parishioners, said Debbie: “If you have the sniffles please stay away.  Additionally, there is no obligation to go to Sunday Mass at present – if you are uncomfortable with the idea of going to Mass at present, then you shouldn’t go.”

In Achonry, Fr Vincent Sherlock, PP of Kilmovee, said to accommodate demand in his parish, he was going to celebrate four Sunday masses this weekend, with two of these being vigil Masses celebrated this evening.

“There are other parishes that have been celebrating daily Masses that are not going to celebrate Sunday Mass, because they don’t think they can cope with demand and they don’t want to turn people away,” he said. “The Western Bishops have published a very good guide on how to return to public worship and that would make a very good working document.

“I have had more parishioners than normal turn up to daily Masses and I think some of these are people who have decided to get Mass once a week but not on Sunday,” Fr Sherlock said.  “It is very difficult for priests – we want to do the right thing by everyone, we want to provide access to the sacraments but we want to ensure public safety.”

Before the government announcement, one priest, who asked not to be identified, said: “If more than 50 people turn up for Mass on Sunday that is OK by me.  I am not turning anyone away, just as I didn’t turn anyone away who slipped into the church while I was celebrating Mass privately during the lockdown.”

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