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.
Framework Document for a return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments
This document is intended to support dioceses and parishes in their own preparations for a return to the public celebration of Mass and the sacraments and may be supplemented at diocesan level. These guidelines should be read in conjunction with return to work protocols and insurance advice. Diocesan bishops are encouraged to put in place appropriate mechanisms for the implementation and verification of the guidelines.
The guidelines provided in this document may need to be adapted in some cases, depending on factors such as the capacity and layout of churches, the size of the parish/church community, etc. However, 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.
It is most important that people who are vulnerable or unwell, and especially those with any symptoms that might suggest Covid-19 infection, should stay at home and, if possible, participate, as now, via webcam, social media, television, or radio. The same applies to those who have been in recent contact with someone who has the virus, in accordance with public health advice.
The following steps should be undertaken in each parish to ensure that the preparations in each church are efficiently and effectively planned.
|1.Establish a Covid-19 Support Team of parishioners to organise preparations and to oversee their implementation and verification. (the verification process may be assisted at Pastoral Area and/or Diocesan level)|
|2. Identify volunteers to assist with the implementation and verification.|
|3. Provide appropriate induction and training where necessary to priests, ministers, readers, employees and volunteers.|
|4. Secure an appropriate supply of signage, cleaning/sanitising materials and accessories and items necessary for protection.|
Dioceses and parishes should at all times follow the most up-to-date public health advice and associated regulations and obligations. To reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19, public health advice emphasises the importance of strict adherence to physical distancing, good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and regular cleaning and sanitising of shared spaces.
A. Physical (Social) Distancing
Public health authorities advise that people should maintain physical distance from each other (currently at least 2 metres). In our churches this will mean that the maximum number of people who can be accommodated for any communal prayer or liturgy will be much reduced. The demands of physical distancing will also need to be considered in relation to people entering the church and leaving it.
The following checklist is offered to assist dioceses and parishes in ensuring that physical distancing can be observed in our churches:
| CONFIRM / COMMENT
|5. Having considered the most up-to-date advice on physical distancing, what is the number of people that can be accommodated safely in each church?|
|6. How will this be managed?|
|7. How will this be communicated to the people?|
|8. Have we clearly indicated the areas in the church where people can sit (e.g. by closing off rows of seats, allowing one person to sit at the end of each free row while permitting those from the same household to sit together, etc.)?|
|9. Have we stewards available, as necessary and appropriate, to assist people entering or leaving the church and to direct them to available seats?|
|10. Have we provided appropriate marking to help people to maintain physical distance, particularly when approaching for Holy Communion?|
|11. Have we taken account of the needs of people with disabilities?|
|12. Have we issued clear advice regarding people observing physical distancing while outside the church?|
|13. Is there appropriate signage to communicate these messages?|
B. Maintenance of Hygiene
While each person has individual responsibility for following advice on hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, the church environment should itself be as safe as any enclosed public space.
The following checklist is offered to assist dioceses and parishes in maintaining the standard of hygiene required in our churches at the present time.
|CONFIRM / COMMENT|
|14. Have all Holy Water fonts been emptied?|
|15. If it is decided to continue providing toilet facilities, are these clean and appropriately stocked?|
|16. Can doors be kept open when people are arriving and departing from Mass or other celebrations to minimise contact with door handles, etc. and to improve ventilation?|
|17. Have sufficient hand sanitisers been provided at all entrances and exits?|
|18. Has the issue of the sharing of missalettes been considered? (reusable prayer books, hymnals, hymn sheets, etc. should not be distributed at this time)|
|19. What safe mechanism has been put in place for taking up church collections (e.g. secure and supervised boxes near the doors of the church)?|
|20. Have we identified those areas and objects in the church which will require frequent cleaning (i.e. seats, ambo, microphones, shrines, door handles, etc.)?|
|21. Has a process been put in place to ensure the regular cleaning of these, including after every gathering?|
|22. Is there a schedule for, and appropriate monitoring of general cleaning and sanitising of the church, including the sacristy?|
A return to public worship, even gradually, will be a source of great joy and hope to our parish communities. Public health considerations will, however, require some practical adjustments to the way we celebrate our liturgies. These should not in any way compromise the integrity of the liturgy and every effort should be made to support active participation and prayerful and joyful celebration.
23. The following should be noted:
- The dispensation from the Sunday and Holy Day obligation is extended for the time being.
- Careful consideration should be given to the number of priests and other liturgical ministers that can be safely accommodated in the sanctuary, allowing for physical distancing and ease of movement.
- The sanctuary area should be arranged in such a way that those exercising a liturgical role can do so while respecting the required physical distance.
- Concelebration should be limited, and concelebrants should receive Communion under both kinds using separate chalices or by intinction.
- Deacons should continue to proclaim the Gospel and give the Homily, but caution should be exercised regarding ministering at the altar for the time being.
- Parishes are recommended to have designated places for Readers and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.
- In the interests of physical distancing, parishes may wish, for the time being, to limit music ministry to a single cantor and a single instrumentalist.
- Altar servers should assist only when all physical distancing/hygiene considerations have been taken into account, and with careful supervision.
- Regarding processions, the simple Entrance and Recessional format is recommended at this time.
- Rather than an Offertory Procession, the gifts of bread and wine should be brought by the celebrant from a credence table, placed near the altar, which will also hold the water bowl and finger towel.
- Care should be taken to avoid the contamination of the hosts which are to be consecrated. It is recommended liturgical practice to consecrate at each Mass a sufficient number of hosts for that celebration only.
- At this time, the optional exchange of the Sign of Peace can be omitted, or offered in a manner which avoids any physical contact.#
- The procession for people approaching for Holy Communion should be carefully planned. Stewards may assist if required.
- For the time being, it is recommended that Communion should not be given under both kinds, and should be received in the hand.
- Priests and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion should visibly sanitise their hands both before and after the distribution of Communion.
- Priests and ministers should wear a face-covering while distributing Communion.
- It is advisable to provide a small table at each point of distribution with a bottle of sanitiser. This would enable the priest/minister to re-sanitise their hands if necessary during the distribution of Communion.
- Care should be taken to thoroughly clean all vessels and to change purificators and finger towels after each Mass.
- At the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, the celebrant will sign the child with the Cross without touching.
- A jug of fresh water will be blessed for the Baptism. For the time being, priests may prefer to have only one child (or children from one family) baptised in each ceremony. However, if there are a number of Baptisms in sequence, the same jug of Blessed Water could be used, but water may not be re-used from the font or basin.
- The anointing with the Holy Oils will be administered by the use of cotton buds.
- For the Sacrament of Reconciliation, provision should be made in the body of the Church for a confessional area. Consideration should be given to the privacy of the sacrament as well as the requirements of physical distancing and hygiene.
Each Diocese should plan for the clear and effective communication of all necessary protocols and procedures to all parishes in the Diocese.