BISHOP of Limerick Brendan Leahy has said that while there is real delight at the return to Mass this week, significant challenges are ahead, with some churches possibly delaying opening.
In his weekly statement since the outbreak of COVID-19 at the end of Mass at St. John’s Cathedral today, Bishop Leahy said that opening for masses is a major undertaking for parishes and will have challenges such as people being unable to get access due to some churches being deemed ‘full’ with 50 people under current guidelines.
Bishop Leahy also stressed that the dispensation from attendance at Sunday Mass is still in place and that some people might find it easier to attend a weekday Mass rather than a Sunday Mass. He also reminded Mass goers that masses will continue to be streamed online from churches with webcams.
“It is good news that we can resume public celebrations in our churches. Our first reaction to this positive development is one of delight. It is wonderful that we can be back in our churches celebrating the sacraments with one another,” said Bishop Leahy.
“It’s a time to return with gratitude in our hearts for the gift that churches, sacraments and our local communities are for us. I am really grateful for all that has gone on in parishes over the past weeks getting ready,” he said.
Bishop Leahy said that a wide range of safety measures in line with public health guidance have been put in place. The Diocese has held briefing sessions through online Webinars with parish volunteers available on the Diocese website.
“I appreciate, however, it has been a major undertaking and some churches, in acting responsibly, will not open immediately and will open only when ready. Some are considering waiting until the number allowed in churches rises,” he added.
Bishop Leahy said that the priority now is to make the process of resuming public celebrations as safe as possible for people.
“Each of us must play our part in caring for each other. Each person attending Mass needs to be conscious of their personal responsibility, not only for their own health and safety but also the health and safety of their fellow Mass goers. We are all individually and mutually accountable.”
He continued: “The new normal is going to take getting used to. We have to be prepared for new routines, new arrangements in our churches and even misunderstandings.
“We’ll find ourselves sitting apart, many wearing masks, the priest and Eucharistic Ministers wearing a mask for the distribution of Holy Communion. Churches will be implementing a one-way system of entry and exit to avoid, as far as possible, people meeting face to face.
“There’ll be stewards directing people to a specific seat and directing them to receive Holy Communion and again when leaving the Church. Great patience, forbearance and co-operation will be needed. For instance, we currently have a clear maximum limit of 50 people in a Church with 2 metre social distancing.
“This might mean, someone will arrive for Mass and the church will be full. That person may have to wait outside and listen to the loudspeaker or may have to return home and follow a Mass by webcam.”
He added: “All this said, the first point is important. This is good news. Let’s be happy about it and thank God this day has come. Let’s remember, however, the Covid-19 menace is still with us. We need to pray that all will go well,” he added.
Meanwhile, Bishop Leahy welcomed the formation of the government but said that the priority must be to look after the most vulnerable in our society.
“I congratulate the members of the new government and assure them of prayers. The responsibility on its members is great. If you input any of the following crises – coronavirus crisis, hospitals crisis, housing crisis, climate crisis, Brexit crisis, mental health crisis and more – into an internet search, you’ll get a fair reflection of the challenge facing this government.
“We wish the government well in working their way through these on our behalf. It is a huge onus and I know they will take it on with great integrity and intent.
“If I were to hang my hopes on one thing for this government, it would be that, at the end of its term, it would stand tall against the measurement set by Mahatma Ghandi who once stated: ‘A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members’.
“There are far too many vulnerable people in our society today; if this government sees the world also through their eyes, many things will fall into place.” he concluded.