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Statement from Irish Bishop’s Conference
As we look forward in joy and hope to the re-opening of our churches for the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, we offer this Framework Document [see below] to the dioceses and parishes of Ireland. The purpose of this document is to assist priests and people in their own preparations and to help ensure that the re-opening of our churches for public worship happens in a safe and measured way. We realise that, given the rich variety of our church buildings and communities, the Framework will need to be adapted to suit differing situations on the ground. However, as our document states:
“in all circumstances the safety and health of people, ministers, and priests must be paramount. No church should be opened for public prayer or worship until satisfactory arrangements, as indicated in this Framework, have been put in place.”
This Framework has been developed in the light of extensive consultation across the dioceses of Ireland and we are very grateful to all who contributed thoughts, comments and suggestions. The document also takes cognisance of the most up-to-date public health advice and associated regulations and obligations.
At our meetings this week we have been keeping in our prayers all who have been affected by COVID-19 in our country and throughout the world. We are especially conscious of the pain and loss felt by so many grieving families. We acknowledge with immense gratitude the skill and courage of our medical professionals and carers. We appreciate deeply the prayers, sacrifice and perseverance of all our faithful. We greatly admire the efforts of the many parishioners who have generously volunteered in charitable outreach to the elderly, vulnerable and marginalised.
At the end of the month we hope to slowly and cautiously resume public worship in our churches, knowing that it can only happen in a limited way. We will still need patience, perseverance and self-sacrifice. The prescriptions contained in this Framework Document will only be effective if we have the generous support of volunteers who will help to plan, implement and manage the transition back to full parish life and the celebration of the sacraments. In this regard we appeal particularly to the younger members of our parishes. Their energy, creativity and enthusiasm are gifts that our communities need now more than ever, since some of our older generation may be unable to offer their normal help in the current circumstances.
We are also very conscious of the demands that this transition will place upon our priests, many of whom may still need to remain shielded from the virus. Together with Pastoral Councils and the support of laity, priests have risen to the challenges presented by the recent restrictions, often in innovative and creative ways, and with great generosity of spirit together with enduring commitment to the faith communities they serve. We hope that the return of communal worship will give new heart to our priests and parishes and that, in spite of the inevitable limitations to our celebrations, we may all be confirmed in faith and in our ministry.
For our families, our domestic churches, this has been a difficult time, especially in homes where the joyful celebrations of First Communion, Confirmation and other sacraments had been happily anticipated. It is our hope that in each diocese arrangements can be put in place to celebrate these sacraments as soon as practicable, albeit in ways that will be influenced by whatever restrictions may still be necessary for the protection of all.
The resumption of public worship should not mean simply going back to where we were before. We have been through testing times, but these months have opened up new possibilities for the future mission of the Church. This crisis has much to say to us about ourselves as a community of faith, about our identity and our way forward. We earnestly hope that what we have learned – as individuals, in the domestic churches of our family homes, and as ministers of Charity, Word and Sacrament – will enrich the life of our Church and increase the joy of our celebrations as the doors of our churches open slowly once more.