Archbishop Diarmuid Martin – Reflections on Current Covid19 Situation

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3 December 2020

I draw your attention to the Pastoral Message of the Bishops of Ireland on our preparations for the celebration of Christmas, issued after our on-line meeting yesterday.

The Bishops address the challenges linked with the celebration of Mass during the Christmas period. The thoughts are the same as our diocesan policy.  Allow me to quote some paragraphs:

Clearly it will be impossible for our usual large congregations to assemble for Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  We wish to remind Catholics that the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days remains suspended during the pandemic.  But Christmas is about more than just one day.  Families are welcome to attend Mass at some point during the twelve days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany. Christmas Masses will also be widely available over webcam and we strongly encourage families to “tune in” from the “domestic churches” of their living rooms and join with those who are gathering in their local churches in welcoming the birth of the Christ-child.

It is possible to experience the spiritual richness of this special season in many ways. Our homes can become “little churches” where we invite the Christ-child in.  The age-old tradition of having a Christmas crib in the home and gathering there as a family to pray or to sing a carol will be especially meaningful this year. We also invite families or “household bubbles” to pay a visit to their local church at some time during the twelve days to offer a Christmas prayer at the crib and pray together for their families and for those particularly impacted by the pandemic”.

I am aware that at the moment parishes are reflecting of different solutions.  I respect that. I would ask that in any decision you take into consideration the effects of your decision on neighbouring parishes and that you ensure that your decision is well explained to parishioners and that you elicit understanding and ownership by them.

We have to be careful not to focus only on the liturgical celebration of Christmas. We have to see where our parishes can generate an atmosphere of care and kindness for those for whom this Christmas will be one tinged with sadness. We celebrate the birth of Jesus both within our Church buildings but also by bringing the message and the magic of Christ to those we encounter. Our ministry is not limited just to sacramental ministry.  We have to witness in society to what the sacraments means. I quote again from the Bishops’ message.

“We are particularly conscious of those whose livelihoods have been seriously threatened by the pandemic. We keep in mind those for whom Christmas time may bring feelings of sadness – people coping with bereavement, families that cannot be together, those in care homes who can only have limited visits from their loved ones. Christmas can be difficult for Irish emigrants and migrants living in Ireland, who are unable to travel home”.

We know also how much organisations such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and Crosscare need financial support to help them carry out their work over Christmas.

We have also to be cautious about hopes that the approval of vaccines will quickly change the need for vigilance. Vaccines will not radically change the situation overnight. It will be some considerable time before a wide sector of the population will be vaccinated. The battle with this virus will take much longer than many imagine and that in the meantime the current norms of hygiene, safe distancing and strict limitation of personal contacts are still then fundamentals.

We have to ensure that we restrict our gatherings to what is essential and use good sense and prudence to avoid risk especially to children and the elderly. Where safety cannot be respected then better show restraint.

Finally I draw your attention to the on line video “retreat” videos which have been prepared by the Office for Clergy and which are coming on line in these days.

+Diarmuid Martin
December 3, 2020

December 2, 2020
In writing the other day, I stressed that in the current situation leading up to Christmas:

We should be careful not to do anything that might compromise safety during the re-opening of Churches. We have to be especially careful not to be fostering any concentration of ceremonies involving gatherings of large numbers of children, especially in this winter season. Reducing the number of gatherings is a key element in the fight to curb the spread of the virus.

I am very concerned that there are a number of parishes that have been proposing to hold First Holy Communion ceremonies for very large numbers of children, whether with or without the participation of parents

I am again very concerned that large numbers of children would be invited to make First Holy Communion without the presence of parents. This would lead to situations of gatherings of people outside Churches and inevitably to a breakdown in social distancing on a very large scale.

My policy is in general to leave decisions to the good sense of individual parishes, taking into consideration local circumstances. However in this case I believe that some parishes are moving into the area where they would be putting the health of families and the wider community at high risk and in such circumstances my advice is not to hold First Communion or Confirmation ceremonies at this moment.

There is a false impression on the part of some that we have returned to the circumstances of low risk more generally associated with Level 2 of the government regulations. This is not the case. We are at Level 3 with a special concession to allow Churches to be open for public worship to enable us to prepare for Christmas. This is a limited concession for which we are appreciative. It must however be understood within the wider imperative of reducing gatherings to what is essential.

With regard to the celebration of Christmas, I would ask parishes to be in close contact with their neighbouring parishes to ensure some policy cohesion. In some cases parishes are intending to provide a very large number of Mass on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. In other cases, parishes wish to suspend the celebration of Mass on those days. Each parish may have different situations, but encouraging people to travel from one parish to another involves once again unnecessary movement and gatherings of people.

I would encourage parishes to avoid rushing onto a concentration of Masses just on two days and to look at using the traditional twelve days of Christmas as one period within which people could be invited to attend Mass. In other cases, families should be encouraged to come together to visit the Crib during this period. The Sunday obligation remains suspended and no one should feel forced to attend Mass if they feel unsure of the risk involved for them or for others. In such circumstances, parishes could offer prayer resources for families and parishioners to help them welcome the Christ-child into their homes at Christmas.

You will notice that Pope Francis has suspended public functions in the days leading to Christmas in order to reduce gatherings of people. He will not attend the traditional ceremony on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and numbers at his Christmas Masses are being drastically reduced.

+Diarmuid Martin
December 2, 2020