Michael Kelly and Chai Brady
Vulnerable and older parishioners will be asked to stay home rather than attend Mass under a new draft plan being discussed by the hierarchy The Irish Catholic can reveal. The plan aims to ensure that all preparations are made so that churches are ready to move as soon as the civil authorities give the green light to public Masses.
The 88-point programme – which is expected to be boiled down to key points in coming days, also bans choirs and congregational singing when churches re-open for public Masses.
It comes as the Government has hinted that phase four – when public Masses are due to begin from July 20 – could be brought forward to the end of June if the virus continues to be successfully managed.
In the document obtained by The Irish Catholic, it is also suggested that dioceses prepare short videos similar to aircraft safety demonstrations to assist parishioners in correct behaviour when returning to Mass.
This newspaper can reveal that options being considered for Holy Communion include a glass screen with an opening at hand level at all Communion distribution points or priests wearing a transparent visor when giving out Communion to people in their seats.
The document insists that “before there is a return to public Masses, it will be very important to manage expectations in advance so that it is not necessary to turn people away”.
Priests are asked to work with parish councils to calculate how many people the church can safely hold and clearly display this figure. The document says that other key points to managing expectations include:
-Reminding people that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is dispensed and arranging in advance to spread participation in Mass across the week.
-Devising a parish programme which will provide for people to come from particular townlands, station areas or housing estates to come to a designated Mass on a particular day, in such a way that everyone can come at least once every few weeks on Sunday.
-Suggesting to those who are vulnerable due to old age or ill-health, that they might continue to participate on webcam or on radio for the moment and, if they wish, arrange for a family member to bring them Holy Communion, while observing the required sanitising of hands etc.
The plan envisages Confirmation ceremonies taking place in mid-September and advises that such celebrations would be conducted by the parish priest and may have to take place in small groups over successive days.
The document says that “a return to public worship and pastoral activities will of necessity be gradual and cautious.
“It is clear that re-opening the pastoral life of the Church will be far more challenging institutionally than anything we have been through in the past few months. Our biggest challenge may be lack of motivation to do all that is required on the part of some, and unbridled enthusiasm to do everything on the part of others.
“It needs to be clearly understood, however, that churches will only be able to re-open for public liturgy when the proper procedures have been put in place,” the document concludes.
In a letter to priests this week, Primate of All-Ireland Archbishop Eamon Martin said he hoped the finalised document “will also support our continuing engagement with government and public health authorities – north and south – in making a case for the early resumption of the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments in a measured and safe way”.
Following a meeting of the bishops’ conference standing committee this week at which the document was discussed, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that the civil authorities are “constantly evaluating progress in re-opening society and it is important that we as Church are ready to respond to any change in the current proposed timescale”.
A plan back to Mass… but not as we know it by Michael Kelly