Priests are being put under “unfair pressure” to provide multiple masses and manage cleaning procedures for churches this festive season, a representative body has warned.
The Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) said in a statement that the lifting of restrictions on public worship has created “particular difficulties for priests and Parish Pastoral Councils (PPCs), especially in organising masses for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.
The body warned that having mass with a congregation in every church in every parish in the country for Christmas may be “a price too high to pay”.
In the statement, the Association, which represents more than one-third of Irish priests, said it was “an open secret that there is huge concern, if not alarm, in parishes regarding how the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day masses can be organised and the need for caution in delivering a safe and manageable outcome”.
The group stated that priests and parish councils “are being placed under undue and unfair pressure to multiply masses, to organise a ticket allocation system, to agree unrealistic and dangerously inappropriate measures to sanitise church buildings, and to recruit unrealistic numbers of volunteers”.
It stressed that every parish is different in terms of priest numbers, size of churches and the resources available to effectively steward, sanitise and oversee the relevant protocols such as social distancing and mask-wearing in order to ensure that people worship in safety.
It stressed that the one thing all parishes have in common is that “huge numbers of people – way beyond the number at typical weekend masses – traditionally gather in churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.
They said there are fears this year that arrangements will be overwhelmed by numbers gathering both inside and outside the church, creating a dangerous and unmanageable situation.
According to the ACP, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for parishes and churches, and the worry is that with the end of Covid-19 in sight now that vaccines are on the way, their particular church and parish may be the scene of a cluster of Covid cases “with devastating consequences”.
“In present circumstances we need to err on the side of caution and wisdom,” the priests’ group stated.
Some parishes are closing their churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and keeping masses online through their webcam facility. Others are combining this with the opportunity for individuals or families to receive communion and visit the crib on Christmas Day by attending at the church within specified hours and with supervised protocols in place.