50-person limit at Mass is ‘strange and disappointing’ – Archbishop Martin

50-person limit at Mass is ‘strange and disappointing’ – Archbishop Martin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has criticised a decision by the Government to limit the number of people allowed to attend public Masses.

“It seems strange that in a church with a capacity of 1,500 people which has been scrupulously fitted out for conformity with social distancing and with clear indications about movement and interaction of people within Church, that only 50 people might be present, while we all see a situation in which large retail outlets brimming with people,” he said in a statement this morning.

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced the restriction at a news conference on Friday evening.

Archbishop Martin pointed out that “Over the past few weeks, parishes have placed a huge investment, both in energy and financial resources, into preparing our churches to be ready for the reopening of public worship on 29 June”.

He said that Catholics “have shown great patience in scrupulously respecting the restrictions on attendance at public worship.

“Priests and parishes have shown creativity in reaching out by online means of transmitting Mass and providing spiritual nourishment and prayer. Our people have equally been looking forward to being able to join fully in congregational worship. This is something that is very important for their spiritual life and personal wellbeing and it is indeed effectively their right,” he said.

Dr Martin said that “It is obviously disappointing that with the re-opening for public worship there is a blanket restriction to the participation of a maximum of 50 in these first weeks.

“You will know that I have already expressed my view that in this initial period we should be patient and to allow the new situation to settle down. I feel that this is wise and I believe that many of our Massgoers will themselves be cautious in attending larger gatherings of people,” he said.

The archbishop expressed the hope “that it will be possible to come to a more reasonable and responsible situation in which numbers permitted to attend Mass could be proportionate to the size of each Church.

“The numbers would not be very large. In some cases, it is not just a question of the limitation to 50 people in a large parish church, but this would effectively mean that only 50 people out of a parish of over 10,000 might be able to attend,” he said.

In a tweet in response to the restriction, Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin wrote: “Disappointing to see the cap of 50 for all buildings. We need to allow local decision-making and flexibility”.

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran also criticised the move in a post on Facebook.

“Such a limitation would make absolutely no sense where churches are concerned as it is not even remotely based on physical distance. While some churches could not accommodate 50 people while maintaining the two metre distance, other larger churches could easily accommodate up to 150 people quite safely, while observing all the public health requirements.

“It is important to say that no such limit on public Mass was suggested when it was announced earlier this month the churches could resume their public activity at the end of the month,” Dr Doran wrote.

He said that he hoped “that this matter will be clarified very soon, as many good people have been working extremely hard to prepare for the return to public Mass and the sacraments.

“The Church has been extremely responsible throughout the entire period of the pandemic and we have now taken very serious steps to prepare for a safe return to public Mass and the sacraments,” he said.