Many people were relieved to hear Taoiseach Micheál Martin indicate on RTÉ Radio that public Masses will likely begin again in the Republic by early December when level five restrictions are set to be eased. Under the original framework, public worship is currently also banned under level three (the restrictions we are expected to move to) but Mr Martin has indicated a willingness to be flexible here.
Thankfully, more and more priests and Church leaders who were willing to accept all Government restrictions in the first lockdown have taken heart from the huge efforts that were made when churches re-opened to keep parishioners safe. Bishops and priests are on the ground and they realise just how cautious local parish communities have been in facilitating a return to public Masses – that’s why they’re more vocal on this occasion and are raising their voices and lobbying members of the Oireachtas for a relaxation on the draconian rules.
I suspect that many also realise that it is not so much that people of faith are being singled out or discriminated against in the ban on public worship, our rights are just not being taken seriously. This is why it is important that voices are raised – in a respectful way – to ensure that policymakers and public health officials know of the efforts that have been made to keep parishioners safe and the ardent desire of Massgoers to return to the sacraments and the common celebration of our Faith.
The High Court is again due to consider a legal challenge to the ban on public worship on December 8 – the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It would be a pity if it falls to the courts to have to decide on an issue that common sense would dictate should never have arisen. At the same time, if there is the prospect of future lockdowns ahead of an expected widespread vaccination programme then perhaps a definitive decision from the courts on the constitutionality of banning people attending public worship is necessary.
In the meantime, Bishop Kevin Doran has said that the hierarchy cannot do all the running themselves – and he’s right. All of us who care about a safe return to public worship should ring, email and write to our TDs and Senators and let them know the basic facts: we have demonstrated that we can worship in a way that is safe and physically distanced and we should not be denied this any longer.