In view of the recent announcement by the Irish Government that there is to be a phased lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, the Bishop of Clogher, Bishop Larry Duffy, has asked parishes to reflect on how some degree of normality can be returned to parish life. Bishop Duffy states that ‘while it will be some time yet before we see the restoration of what we would consider a normal routine at parish level, journeys always begin with small steps, taken together and for the good of all and, especially, taking into consideration the welfare of clergy and the needs of all our people.’
Bishop Duffy has asked parishes to consider how congregations can be best accomodated while maintaining social distancing, once the celebration of public Masses is possible in the near future. He has also allowed for parishes in the Republic to provide for the celebration of baptisms, once there are no more than 10 people present and there is strict social distancing.
In relation to the celebration of Funeral Masses, the following options are available, with effect from Monday 4 May 2020.
- The Funeral Mass is postponed until a later date with the priest offering a private Mass for the deceased. There can be a memorial Mass at a later date.
- The Funeral Mass is offered by the priest via webcam or Facebook Live, inviting the family to join in the celebration live from their homes.
- That a small Funeral Mass be held, with only 10 people present (as per public health authorities’ regulations at present. This number may increase in the weeks ahead). Where such a Funeral Mass is celebrated, there should be no physical interaction between the sanctuary and the body of the church. In other words, there should be no readers, no presentation of symbols or gifts and music should be provided from a safe distance.
It is highly recommended that, in the interests of public health and maintaining social distancing, the date and time of the funeral is not made public.
Bishop Duffy adds that ‘without doubt, the absence of traditional funeral rites with the presence of the whole family and wider community has been the most difficult aspect of the current crisis. Not being able to grieve properly for one’s deceased adds to the pain of grief, especially more so in the exceptional circumstances we are living through. That is why, in light of the recently announced plans to re-open society, I wish to have some provision made for funerals at this time.’
In relation to the annual Cemetery Sunday celebrations, Bishop Duffy has asked that all Cemetery Masses should be postponed until later in the summer / early autumn, when, hopefully, circumstances will permit them to be truly family and community celebrations. In the meantime, he states that it is important that, where possible, people have ordered access to cemeteries to be able to remember and pray for their deceased loved ones.
Priests and Parishes supporting each other
The fact that some priests aged over 70 are cocooning and not available to celebrate public Masses is also acknowledged. However, the bishop is fulsome in his praise of those priests who have helped each other out. ‘I thank our priests for the way in which they have crossed parish boundaries both in terms of supporting each other and of allowing people to partake insofar as possible in the Divine Mysteries at this difficult time. This is sign for present and future.’
Just the same as it is for families and businesses everywhere, the question of parish finances is problematic at this time. Bills need to be paid and donations from parishioners and others joining parishes digitally are urgently required. The bishop has praised those parishes who are engaging new ways of generating funds through standing orders / direct debits as well as facilitating the handing in of weekly envelopes. He especially commends the Donate facility on the diocesan website www.clogherdiocese.ie which enables donors to contribute on a once off or recurring basis to the parish or fund (including Trócaire) of their choice. The Trócaire Lenten appeal will continue to run until the end of May and parishes are asked to make arrangements for their contributions to that much needed area to be sent to the diocesan office.
Bishop Duffy has again asked for prayers. ‘In this Easter season we listen to the Word of God as it is proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles. We hear it as an Easter people, filled with hope and assured of Christ’s eternal and loving presence among us. Just like the disciples, we too are asked to pray, to be with each other and to witness to Jesus ‘to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). Our future is in the hands of God. God’s plan is made known to us through the power of prayer. That is why I once again ask you all to pray for our world; that this pandemic will pass, that people will be healed, that the bereaved will be comforted, that frontline workers will be strengthened and blessed, that leaders everywhere will make wise decisions and that the entire Church may be renewed in its mission to love and serve the Lord. Please do remember me in your prayers too as I will pray for you.’