Priests around the country expressed relief as limits on capacity at churches were lifted last Friday, October 22.
However, some priests added that people are still “wary and cautious” as cases continue to remain high.
“Life is good again,” said Fr Tom Walsh of Gurranabraher, Co. Cork, adding that “we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s great that people are enthusiastic”.
These sentiments were echoed by Fr Billy Swan of Wexford parish, who said “there is relief”, and that “the focus is much more on the celebration now”.
Fr Warren Collier of Trim, Co. Meath, said they “had good congregations at the weekend, we probably did have some more extra than normal”.
The “red tape” that sectioned off the church was taken away in Ardfinnan, Co. Tipperary, where Fr Michael Toomey said people are glad to be back: “We have just asked people to be socially distant and to use common sense.”
The restrictions were also lifted for funerals and baptisms, with Fr David Vard saying “it’s great not to have to worry about numbers”.
“For funerals as well, we had two funerals yesterday, and it was lovely not to have to worry about that [turning people away] which was always a big thing,” the Portlaoise priest said.
Fr Joe Deegan of Clara, Co. Offaly, said that it is “a little bit easier for sure”.
“Yesterday we had three baptisms and each of the three families had quite a number of extended family there so obviously that people may be aware of that, that they’re allowed now to do things on a bigger scale,” Fr Deegan continued.
Most priests attested to a “bit-by-bit” return, as Fr David Bradley of Kells parish, Co. Meath described it, over the past few months.
“There’s a certain element of relief amongst the congregation,” Fr Bradley said. “There’s another cohort of people who are still wary and cautious. People are just treading gently.”
Fr John Joe Duffy of Creeslough parish, Co. Donegal, estimated that 80-85% of his parishioners have returned already.
“People are delighted to be back to Mass,” Fr Duffy said. “I’m very conscious of need for safety. I want to ensure that people feel safe for starters, but also that they are safe.”
Fr Bryan Shorthall, PP Priorswood parish, Co. Dublin, said that “there are some older parishioners, and I know that from talking to families and others in other parishes, that are still a little bit worried about coming back again, and that’s fine.
“We’ve found certainly on the weekends the numbers have been a little bit more.”
Fr Denis O’Mahony of Ballyheigue, Co. Kerry, said that while he hasn’t noticed an immediate increase since the lifting of restrictions, they are running a poster campaign encouraging people to return.
“We have something in Kerry, an effort to promote next Sunday and the next couple of weeks, we have posters up about gathering together again, but I think it will be slow,” he said.
Another Kerry priest, Fr Kevin McNamara of Glenflesk parish, said he has noticed that “families are coming back as well, and young ones are coming back, and I think there is a little buzz with that, the fact that they realise that some ‘new normal’ is coming back”.
Additional reporting by Chai Brady, Jason Osborne and Brandon Scott,