A senior Catholic Bishop has said that the Government’s dismissive attitude to the desire of Catholic to attend Mass is not good enough, and that the Catholic Church has taken the restrictions “far too easily”. 

Reverend Alphonsus Cullinan, the Bishop of Waterford and Lismore was responding to the government’s announcement that religious services would have to take place online and that churches would remain closed to the faithful

” ‘Services will be held Online”; With this one phrase the government guidelines for Level 3-5 of the national plan have dismissed the real need that thousands of faithful around this country have for the Eucharist,” wrote Bishop Cullinan.

“After weeks of lockdown earlier this year and then again under Level 3 and after trojan work on behalf of priests and people to make our church buildings ultra-safe with regard to Covid-19, the faithful are again prevented from going to Mass,” he continued.

“The reasoning for this has not been given in any adequate way. A dismissive one-liner is not good enough. Ireland is the only country in Europe where people cannot get to Mass. While availing of Mass online is beneficial it is no substitute for being physically present. There is huge frustration among people of faith because they feel prevented from worshipping as they need to.”

He said the Church had taken the enforced closure of churches too easily and that the practice of faith was an essential service.

“I believe that we in the Church, have taken these restrictions far too easily and have not paid sufficient attention to the huge cost of these restrictions for ordinary people in different ways -spiritually, mentally and economically. Our government has a very difficult job but it must hear the message loud and clear that lockdown is crushing many people including people of faith who believe that the practice of one’s faith in public is an essential service,” he said.

Writing on Gript yesterday, Dr Thomas Finnegan said the restrictions on Mass should be lifted.

“What we are left with is government’s glib advice that religious services can “move online”. Other religions will have their own perspectives, but for Catholics this statement betrays gross ignorance of the theological, salvific meaning of Mass. Communion with God and with the people of God (the Church) cannot be “moved online”. We are incarnate, communal beings; the Eucharist is the continuation of the Incarnation in the world. Embodiment and presence are vital for the Catholic faith,” he wrote.

“One wonders in all this how mindful the establishment class are of the needs, desires and sorrows of religious citizens. Tánaiste Varadkar recently commented that no one on NPHET faces unemployment, with the implication being that this narrowed NPHET’s horizon when issuing advice. Well, how many at cabinet empathise with hunger and thirst for God?”

“The Government’s sharp under-appreciation of religion ought not to rub off on Bishops. Bishops have their mandate from Christ and at least have formal legal freedom from the state. If they can convince the government of the need to nuance its public health advice to respect the importance of public worship then well and good. It is a discharge of civic duty to attempt this path,” he said.