The bishop of Raphoe has said politicians are wrong to deem religious services “non-essential”.

Bishop Alan McGuckian has told Catholics in Donegal that he “longs for our churches to be open for Mass and the sacraments as soon as possible”, after religious services were shut down to the public following Christmas Day.

The bishop of Raphoe said parishes throughout Ireland “took the utmost care to make sure that our churches are as safe as possible”, but that some in public service had deemed religion “non-essential.”

“It has been said by some persons in public service that ‘religion is non-essential’, that gathering for Mass and other religious services is less important than shopping or physical exercise or many other things,” Bishop McGuckian wrote in his Lenten pastoral letter.

“I know that some of you feel that, by cooperating as fully as we are with the government, we are acquiescing in the falsehood that God and his service and our public witness to him are not essential.”

McGuckian went on to ask Catholics to contact their political representatives in an effort to lift the restrictions on public worship.

“We need to let our political leaders know that God and our worship of Him are central to us; they are utterly essential,” he said.

“Pope Francis pointed out recently that; ‘the right to worship must be respected, protected and defended by civil authorities like the right to bodily and physical health’.”

Finishing his letter, Bishop McGuckian asked Catholics to turn to God “with all our hearts” during Lent.

The government has so far announced that some schools for those with special needs will re-open from February 22, whilst most other schools and construction projects are set to re-open on a phased basis from March 5th.

To date, no indication has been made by government officials as to when public worship will return.