6th October 2020.
Last night, an Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, TD, announced that, in the light of the very worrying increase in infection, the entire Country will be placed on Level 3 of the Government‘s COVID–19 Resilience and National Recovery Plan, beginning at midnight tonight and for at least a three–week period.
The norms apply to all places of worship in the Republic of Ireland, including those of religious houses that are generally open to the public.
Places of worship will have to remain closed from midnight tonight, except for private prayer, weddings and funerals. Attendance at wedding liturgies and funerals would be limited to 25.
Religious services can be transmitted online with no public presence. As was the case in the past, parishes should make known as soon as possible the times of the transmission of Masses online. Where an individual parish does not have the ability to transmit online, details of neighbouring parishes can be supplied.
The celebration of the sacraments of Confirmation and First Holy Communion will therefore not be possible during this period and will have to be postponed. Permission already granted to priests to celebrate Confirmations remain valid for a rescheduled date. Any celebration of these Sacraments – such as in schools or other places – constitutes public worship and is covered by this restriction and should not take place. I understand the concerns that this may bring to many families.
I am aware of the fact that these Level 3 measures will be painful for many. The decisions are made to respond in the best possible way to an unforeseen and complex situation. The Holy See‘s Congregation for Divine Worship in a recent letter, approved by Pope Francis, noted that restrictions should be limited in time and that as soon as circumstances permit, it is urgent to return to the normality of Christian life. It also stressed unambiguously the gratitude of the Congregation to Bishops who “in listening to and collaborating with civil authorities and experts... have been prompt to make difficult and painful decisions even to the point of suspending the participation of the faithful in the celebration of the Eucharist for a long period”
Today, we find ourselves sadly in that situation once again and we are called to make painful sacrifice for the common good. The Holy See‘s Letter stresses that “aware that God never abandons the humanity He has created, and that even in the hardest trials can bear fruits of grace, we (should accept our distance from the Lord‘s altar as a time of Eucharistic fasting, useful for us to rediscover its vital importance, beauty and immeasurable preciousness”.
What many Catholics lament is the loss of the community dimension of our faith, and its human dimension. There is no Church without community; our humanity is at the heart of our faith. Just as the Saviour is truly human and truly divine, so the People of God need to be in communion with each other, and in communion with their Lord (1 Cor 10:16–17). We don‘t often reflect on these things; we don‘t have to. But when they are taken away almost overnight, we naturally wonder what is happening, and what is happening to us. Of course, people are grateful for the televised celebrations, as well as Masses on local Radio and on webcams from churches near and far. The driving force behind this ‘virtual‘ participation in the Eucharistic liturgy is clear, but online Masses and spiritual Communion are only a partial reflection of our common experience of the Church, both past and present. We must pray intensely that we will be able to return to public worship at the earliest possible date.
In the lives of everyone, there are bleak times–winters, as it were, of the heart and soul. The difficult time we now face is one such time, and as in any winter things are more restricted, more precarious. Short as they are, winter days can be harder to live through. But there is also a life in the winter–another life: those who manage to see it can welcome its quiet, and maybe even savour the rest it brings.
The winter that follows autumn is a necessary step towards spring.
In these winter days for our people and parishes, for our country, and for the world, may we not just yearn for the spring, but also discover how to wait for our faithful God. May the Lord who prayed in the night of Gethsemane teach us to pray anew. May he who knew abandonment on the cross, show us how cling to hope. May the One who was lowered into the silence of the tomb, bring to life in us the Word of God.
In the Lord‘s “hands are the depths of the earth, and the heights of the mountains are his.” (Ps 94:4). It is not only the depths of the earth that are in his hands, but the depths of our lives, the depths of our hearts, and the depths of our souls. Let us face these days not in the shallows, but in the depths where He, who is our Life and our Hope–the Bread of our lives – can find us. I appeal to all to enter into this difficult period with that spirit. We must pray that we can soon return to the Eucharist “with a purified heart, with a renewed amazement, with an increased desire to meet the Lord, to be with him, to receive him and to bring him to our brothers and sisters with a life full of faith, love and hope.”
With kindest regards,
Dermot Farrell, Bishop of Ossory.