Catholic archbishops in Ireland have urged Taoiseach Micheál Martin to allow the resumption of public worship when current Covid-19 restrictions are eased, to allow the faithful to gather for Holy Week and Easter services.
In a recent bilateral meeting between the Taoiseach and the archbishops to discuss the current level of Covid-19 restrictions, the Catholic leaders expressed their desire to return to worship, particularly during the season of Lent and with the approach of Holy Week and Easter.
The meeting was attended by the Primate of All-Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin; the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell; the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Kieran O’Reilly; and the Archbishop of Tuam, Michael Neary.
The Archbishops requested the meeting as part of ongoing constructive dialogue regarding the Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions on public worship.
Recognising the huge challenges which the pandemic poses, the archbishops emphasised that they wish to continue supporting the public health message and to encourage all necessary measures, including vaccination, to protect health and well-being, especially that of the most vulnerable.
They shared their concern that life at present is particularly stressful and difficult for people to endure, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Recognising the spiritual comfort and hope that participation in public worship brings, the archbishops asked that public worship resume when an easing of restrictions is considered.
They expressed “a strong desire” that people might gather safely this year for the important ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter.
They also requested consideration of an increase in the number of the bereaved who may attend funeral Masses.
The Taoiseach thanked the archbishops for their support and acknowledged the importance of the Church community in people’s lives, especially at this time of stress and worry.
He outlined the ongoing concerns regarding the spread of the virus, particularly the new variants, stressing that any increase at all in mobility can have serious consequences for public health and put pressure on the health service.
In concluding, he said the concerns raised at the meeting would be given consideration.
It was agreed to maintain dialogue as the situation evolves.
However, in a statement the Association of Catholic Priests expressed concern about calls for an Easter return to community worship, noting that ACP members have “significant misgivings” about re-opening churches for Easter ceremonies, believing it to be a “premature and potentially detrimental move”.
“The post-Christmas surge in new Covid-19 cases and the threat from Covid-19 variants represent a persuasive evidence-based platform to strongly argue against an early return to congregational worship,” the ACP said.
However, it added that “hearts are lifted with the rollout of the vaccination programme”.
“Faith, science, solidarity and empathy will serve us all well in our attempts to overcome this pandemic. Meanwhile, we continue to worship ‘in spirit and in truth’.”
Picture: A woman participating in a Rosary rally carries a sign near a statue of Mary outside the cathedral in Galway, Ireland. She was seeking the return of public Mass during the Covid-19 pandemic. (CNS photo/Clodagh Kilcoyne, Reuters).