Put hymns and holy water away: Irish bishops' plans to reopen in June
The Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference has published its framework document for a return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments.
The new measures recommend limiting the number of people allowed to enter churches and the listing of church objects that should be temporarily removed. The guidelines also stipulate that priests should wear a “face covering” during communion and that communicants should receive the Blessed Sacrament in their hands.
Last week, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that the Irish government could "speed up" the third phase of its lifting restrictions plan and allow the masses to reopen in the Republic of Ireland on June 29, over two weeks ahead of schedule.
The decentralized administration in Northern Ireland allowed the churches in Northern Ireland to reopen last month, but no date for the return of public services to the churches there was announced.
Taking into account the different situation of the churches, the plans of the Irish bishops say: "No church should be opened to public prayer or worship until satisfactory arrangements have been made, as stated in this context."
One of the main concerns of the document is social distancing. In accordance with public health recommendations, bishops advise people to stay two meters apart in churches. They say they should tell the number of people allowed to enter a church and the arrangements for sitting during mass and queuing during communion.
The bishops also state that "communion should not be given and received in both ways" while encouraging the churches to omit the sign of peace and the sacrificial procession.
The guidelines require churches to ensure that holy water writings are emptied and that “reusable prayer books, hymn books, song sheets” are no longer distributed.
They also urge congregations to "identify volunteers" to ensure that these measures are followed and that adequate signage and "disinfectant materials" are available at the entrances and exits to the church.
Earlier this week, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, Primate of all Ireland, appealed to the "younger members of our parishes" to volunteer when the services in Ireland resume, as these were roles that "some of our older members may have." can't meet this time. "
The bishops' framework document states that the “release from the obligation to celebrate Sunday and Holy Day will be extended for the time being” and particularly encourages older and vulnerable members “to stay at home and, if possible, to participate via a webcam, social, if possible Media, television or radio. "
In their statement on the new guidelines, the Irish bishops say that "resuming public worship should not mean simply returning to where we were before".
"We have had testing times, but these months have opened new opportunities for the Church's future mission," they said. “We sincerely hope that what we have learned – as individuals, in the home churches of our family homes, and as ministers for charity, word, and sacrament – will enrich the life of our church and increase the joy of our celebrations as doors to open our churches slowly again. "