We need an army of volunteers to get our churches open for Mass

We need an army of volunteers to get our churches open for Mass AFP via Getty Images

Time and again we see from the pages of the Bible that a time of crisis is also a time of opportunity. Whether in the story of the Israelites or in the New Testament, God sets before his people a choice when it comes to every crisis: to adapt and grow, or to perish.

Human beings grow through crises and so does the Church. The coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented time for the Church. When we gathered for Ash Wednesday on February 26, few of us could’ve imagined that we would be preparing to mark the feast of Pentecost under lockdown.

Our priests and parishes have responded to the new reality with courage and vigour. Notwithstanding the odd technical glitch, the liturgical life of the Church has moved online. But, of course, the virtual has limitations and we all long for the day when we will soon be able to gather together for Mass. As a draft document prepared by the hierarchy and obtained by The Irish Catholic this week (see Page 8) makes clear, it will be a huge task to return to public Masses. And the return will be far from business as usual with stringent physical distancing and hygiene standards here to stay.

A lot of the Govern-ment messaging on Covid-19 has been around the theme of being in this pandemic together. This is particularly true of the Church and a massive army of volunteers in every parish in the country will have to assemble and commit to this project for the gradual re-opening to be a success.

For their own good, many will want to continue to participate in the Mass via webcam or on the radio”

As the bishops point out, “preparing for a return to public sacramental life is not something that priests can or should attempt to do on their own”. Priests will need to work in consultation with the parish council and other volunteers (ideally with expertise in medicine, health and safety, project management, events planning, etc.) to ensure that a return to public Masses is as safe as can possibly be.

Unfortunately, at least in the short- to medium-term, it will not be possible for some parishioners who are elderly or vulnerable to return to Mass. For their own good, many will want to continue to participate in the Mass via webcam or on the radio.

For those of us with no underlying conditions or health concerns, we should be considering how we are best placed to help in the reopening. Parish councils often complain that their role is ill-defined: this is a perfect moment for the council to take on the co-ordination of a return to public Masses by identifying the talents and skills in the local Christian community and utilising these people.

We all have our part to play, whether it is devising communications so that parishioners feel safe to come back to Mass, or the technical logistics of managing the entry and exit from churches. It is a daunting undertaking, but not one that should overwhelm us.

At times of great need in the Church, the power of the Holy Spirit has inspired us to come together to take on mammoth tasks. The issue of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults is one such example. Not too long ago, it seemed an impossible ask to have a safeguarding structure in every parish community in the country. Now, because laypeople have stepped up to work hand-in-hand with priests and religious on the issue, it is the norm.

Now we are called to embark on another mission of safeguarding the return to public Masses.

In the document seen by this newspaper, the bishops say that “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.

Those of us who are able must play our part”

“Our biggest challenge,” they write, “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 reopen for public liturgy when the proper procedures have been put in place.”

Those of us who are able must play our part in this and contact our priests and parish offices to volunteer our time and talent. We must proceed with both determination and patience, but it can be done.