Cover image: Interior of St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin (by Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Micheál Martin, the Taoiseach (prime minister) of the Republic of Ireland, on Thursday evening announced a plan for the reopening of parts of Irish society, including allowing the resumption of public worship.
Beginning on May 10, the government will allow religious services to resume, with a limit of 50 people in attendance, regardless of the size of the worship space or whether worshippers have been vaccinated.
The limit on attendance will also apply to funerals and weddings, while wedding receptions will be limited to six guests for indoor gatherings and 15 guests for outdoor receptions.
According to The Irish Catholic, believers have been forbidden to attend Mass or other religious services for 27 of the past 30 weeks. In recent weeks, the government has made leading or attending religious services a criminal offence, with penalties of up to six months in jail.
The Covid-19 restrictions currently in place in Ireland are the harshest in Europe. Ireland remains the only EU member nation in which attendance at religious services is banned.
Ireland’s Catholic Bishops have expressed their “deep concerns” about the criminalisation of leading or attending public worship, with Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh saying the latest restrictions were “unclear” and appeared “draconian.”
In a meeting with the Irish Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly, on 19 April, Archbishop Martin reiterated the Church’s support “for the protection of health, life, and the Common Good,” but added that, “for people of faith,” spiritual well-being, like physical and mental health, “is essential.”
He called on the government to recognise the pastoral work of priests and other ministers among essential services, and asked for “regular and meaningful consultation” among the Church, the state, and public health advisors.
The health minister told the bishops that “religious and spiritual well-being were taken very seriously by the government,” which would consider re-opening of public worship “in accordance with public health advice.”
In his speech on Thursday night, the Irish prime minister announced a slew of changes to Covid-19 norms. In addition to provisions for public worship, the new government “guidance” addresses travel within Ireland, business and personal services, and cultural activities, including the reopening of galleries, museums, and libraries.
“As we enter this next stage of a long and difficult journey,” said the Taoiseach, “we all search for inspiration and we try to find reassurance that there is a solid basis for the hope that is growing within us.”