On Wednesday March 25, Archbishop Kieran O’ Reilly, following consultation with the Catholic bishops of Munster, issued to priests an updated statement on our response to the Covid-19 crisis. The full text of the statement follows.
‘I hope you are well and coping with the new and most unusual situation that we now find ourselves in. Even in such circumstances the spiritual journey for us and our parishioners continues. We may not be able to gather as we wish but the grace of God is given to us through the sacraments that we have received. It is a time to urge our parishioners to bring alive the “Domestic Church” through family prayer and being together.
I would like to propose the following guidelines which take into account the new public health restrictions announced by the government yesterday and following a meeting online with the Bishops of the Province.
The Sacrament of Baptism
Except in the danger of death, Baptisms should not be celebrated until further notice.
Due to the number of people now permitted to gather, numbers for funerals must be kept to an absolute minimum
Visiting the Sick and First Friday Calls
On the basis of the public health guidelines, First Friday house visits and other pastoral house visits should cease except in the cases of the anointing of those who are dying (see below).
Pastoral visits can be replaced for the time being with other forms of pastoral outreach such as telephone conversations with prayers and blessings. Priests can invite the elderly and sick to accept with a spirit of Christian sacrifice, this loss of a regular visit so often accompanied by the sacrament of Reconciliation and the reception of Holy Communion.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The normal schedule of Confessions in churches has ceased for the time being. If a priest is approached by an individual seeking the sacrament of Reconciliation, all the recommendations regarding hygiene, no hand-shake, social distance etc. apply. Priests should hear the Confession in a large space with the penitent at a distance of two metres. It is recommended that priest and penitent should remain standing, if possible, as a way to keep the confession short and to minimize contact with hard surfaces.
Forgiveness of Sins and Easter Duty
Catholic doctrine teaches that if a person cannot get to Confession, it is sufficient to confess one’s sins to God, seeking forgiveness and with the intention of going when next possible to Confession. God forgives the sins and the person is renewed in heart and soul. When the opportunity then arises later to go to Confession, he or she should do so.
At his morning Mass on March 20th, Pope Francis spoke about this doctrine in words that can also help resolve concerns about fulfilling our Easter duty:
“I know that many of you go to confession before Easter… Many will say to me: ‘But Father…I can’t leave the house and I want to make my peace with the Lord. I want Him to embrace me… How can I do that unless I find a priest?’. Do what the catechism says. It’s very clear. If you don’t find a priest to go to confession, speak to God. He’s your Father. Tell Him the truth: ‘Lord. I did this and this and this. Pardon me.’ Ask His forgiveness with all your heart with an act of contrition, and promise Him, ‘afterward I will go to confession.’ You will return to God’s grace immediately. You yourself can draw near, as the catechism teaches us, to God’s forgiveness, without having a priest at hand.”
The Anointing of Those who are Dying
At present, it is not expected that priests in parishes will have to anoint someone with Covid-19. It is foreseen that anyone seriously ill with Covid 19 will be transferred to hospital. The hospital chaplains will follow hospital protocols in anointing such patients.
If it should happen in the future that it appears priests might be called to anoint a person with Covid-19, further advice will be obtained from the public authorities and such advice will be made available.
With regard to celebrating the sacrament of the sick for the dying (last rites) in cases that are not Covid-19, it is essential that in anointing the sick, the priest should use a cotton bud or surgical glove for the anointing with Holy Oil and dispose of them appropriately. The rite should be administered while at a distance of 2 metres. It is important to follow recommendations on hand hygiene after the celebration of the Sacrament. In entering the house of the person to be anointed, the priest should avoid contact with others in the house. It should be borne in mind that a priest (as would be the case for anyone) entering another house involves the risk of spreading the virus either through the priest himself (perhaps unknowingly a bearer of the virus) or through the priest contracting the virus from others in the house, including the dying person, all of whom again perhaps, unknowingly, have the virus.
It is clear that some priests will themselves, because of their health condition or age, feel unable to attend to the sick person in their local parish. They may need and should feel it is okay to do so, to call on another priest from elsewhere to celebrate the sacrament.
Open Churches We are advised from all authorities that the message is now to “stay at home if at all possible” It is important that no gatherings of any kind be arranged around the church. Our Churches will remain open for private individual prayer, the regulations of yesterday specify that “all places of worship are to restrict numbers entering at any one time to ensure adequate physical distancing”. Please be extra vigilant with regard to physical distancing. Also, hand sanitizing as well as the cleaning and sanitizing of hard surfaces, door handles etc. in the church is very important. Please clearly indicate to people visiting the church the need for physical distance.
These are the points that the Bishops of the province spoke about in our Zoom conference and agreed to forward to the priests of our dioceses. I will continue to be in touch with you over the coming days and weeks especially with regard to the Easter Ceremonies as the situation develops.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you most sincerely for your commitment and dedication at this most difficult of times. I ask you to ensure that you take all prudent and necessary steps to safeguard your health. I particularly ask priests over 70 years of age and those with special medical needs to be extremely careful.
Let us remember each other in our prayers.’
+Kieran O’ Reilly SMA