The Irish government will not lift its ban on public worship until July 20th, despite reopening restaurants, public libraries, opticians, and numerous other “non-essential” activities.
Many European countries have already resumed public worship and almost all others will have reopened long before Ireland does. Sweden, Poland, and Bulgaria never suspended public worship at all, while worship has already returned in the Czech Republic, Germany, Croatia, Monaco, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Luxembourg, Estonia, Norway, Austria, Romania, Greece, and Italy.
Frustrated Irish Catholics have urged their leaders to be more forceful in pleading their case to government but in many cases the bishops themselves have seemed the most reluctant of all to return to the celebration of Sunday Mass with the presence of the faithful.
A front-page article in The Irish Catholic earlier this month insisted that “Church leaders must lobby the government for a timeframe that is realistic, ambitious, and keeps public health to the fore.”
“A swifter return to public worship can be achieved if there is the will,” the article stated. “It is not appropriate to leave this entirely in the hands of well-meaning public officials, many of whom may be unfamiliar with the patterns of liturgy and Church life.”
So far, this appeal and others like it have fallen on deaf ears, with distinguished prelates showing no indication they wish to accelerate a return to the sacraments. While bishops in Italy and the UK have asserted the rights of the faithful, a determined response has been lacking in Ireland.
In a recent radio interview, Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin rambled on and on about safety precautions but said nothing about the spiritual needs of the faithful. The archbishop said it was “possible” that public Masses could return sometime this year, insisting that “the reopening of churches for worship has serious public health concerns.”
“I’ve spoken with the Government on this, if we’re ready I think one could look at it but you’re talking again about very large people gatherings of people indoors. Sporting activities are outdoors and we just have to make sure,” the archbishop lamented. “There would be a lot of people who will not come back because they’re afraid.”
“In the long term, the question I’m asking isn’t so much about when can we have the churches open and get back to that line of business, I think we have to ask the question ‘what Church are we looking at?’” Martin said.
“We’re certainly not going to go back to the way we were in the past,” he added.
To date, Ireland has only had 24,112 cases of coronavirus and 1,543 persons have died while testing positive with the disease.