Bishop Dónal McKeown announces cautious return to public worship in Derry in time for Holy Week and Easter
Bishop Dónal McKeown, in a joint statement with the northern Bishops, has announced a cautious return to public worship for the faithful next week, in time for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter.
The Bishops emphasised the need for continued caution and a rigorous application of all mitigations and safeguards required to ensure the safest possible return to public worship in local churches.
They also suggested that people should consider carefully if returning to collective worship is the safe and appropriate step for them, at this time.
Notwithstanding the reopening the Bishops are encouraging families to celebrate the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus from the ‘domestic church’ of their own living rooms, via live-streaming this Easter.
"Following ongoing consultation between representatives of the Churches, the Executive Office and our public health authorities, and in light of the most recent review of lockdown provisions by the NI Executive yesterday, the Northern Catholic Bishops are pleased to announce that, where possible, there can be a cautious return to public worship for the faithful from March 26, in time for the celebration of Holy Week and Easter.
"We note that other Christian Churches will be making a similar announcement, in keeping with key dates in their liturgical traditions around Easter," the Catholic prelates stated.
They said the announcement was only possible as a result of the collective and heroic effort of so many especially health workers.
But they said they were taking a cautious approach and that public worship should only begin again after a thorough risk assessment. Some parishes may decide that they do not want to return to public worship in the immediate future.
"In emphasising the cautious nature of this return to public worship the Bishops remind the faithful that the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days remains suspended and that every person should consider carefully if returning to collective worship is the safe and appropriate step for them, at this time. We continue to strongly encourage participation, where possible, including in the ceremonies of Holy Week, by way of live-streaming.
"While Baptismal liturgies, prayer gatherings and other acts of worship can take place publicly in our Churches in accordance with today’s announcement, subject to rigorous risk assessment and with all necessary mitigations in place, it is important to note that Weddings and Funerals will continue to be subject to the relevant state regulations in terms of the numbers that can attend," the Bishops advised.
Some liturgical changes are also being imposed as a result of the continued circulation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the diocese.
"This year the celebration of Holy Week and Easter will also require adjustments to certain aspects of the liturgy to take account of the need for safe social distancing, sanitising and other mitigations necessary in the context of the current pandemic. Guidelines for the Liturgies of Holy Week in a time of pandemic will be issued separately to parishes over coming days," the Bishops added.
First Holy Communion ceremonies will be subject to risk assessments and have to be reduced in size.
"Given the ongoing uncertainty about the public health situation and the gradual lifting of restrictions, it will be necessary for every Parish and school to give careful consideration to how the sacraments of First Reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation can be celebrated in a safe and appropriate manner over the coming months.
"This includes ensuring that all the necessary catechetical preparations are made, rigorous risk assessments are undertaken and, where necessary, ceremonies are significantly reduced in scale," the Bishops cautioned.