Question: In what country in the world do the authorities consider it perfectly safe to queue up for a McDonalds drive-thru, and collect your happy meal, but too dangerous to queue up for communion after an online mass?

Take a wild guess:

The Archdiocese of Dublin has advised parishes and priests not to organise events to give communion to parishioners after mass, either inside or outside of churches.

The advice came as a parish in west Dublin stopped handing out communion to 130 parishioners on Sundays, after gardaí advised it should not be doing so. 

“Under current restrictions all religious services continue to take place online. In the interest of health and safety priests and parishes ought not to distribute Holy Communion before or after mass, in or outside churches,” the Archdiocese said in a statement.

At first glance, what the priest was doing here was exceedingly responsible. The mass itself was being held online, and then, when it was over, people had the opportunity to turn up, in a socially distanced manner, to receive communion individually, either on foot, or in their cars.

This is, as noted above, broadly similar to existing, and perfectly legal, practice, in fast food restaurants across the country. You cannot go into your local McDonalds, or Burger King, but you sure can drive up, phone your order in through the kiosk, and have it handed straight into your car. If you feel like it, you can even take the drive thru on foot. So why is that considered safe, and an essential service, but communion is not? There is no logical difference between the two services.

The Dublin Archdiocese, of course, instead of pushing back on this absurdity from the Gardai, instead adopts its customary cowering-in-the-corner-begging-the-media-not-to-hit-it position. They could have pointed out, perfectly reasonably, that the present restrictions ban religious services. Somebody receiving communion outside the setting of a religious service is not specifically banned. The Gardai’s interpretation of “religious service” is just flat out wrong here – and you don’t have to be a Catholic to know that.

Communion is, after all, perhaps the single most important practice of the Catholic faith. It is absolutely central to everything Catholics believe. This is a case of a priest trying in good faith to meet the spiritual needs and demands of his parishioners, in a way that’s perfectly consistent with other activities that are happening in society. You would think he’d be applauded, but instead, he’s being banned by the Gardai, and abandoned, as usual, by Ireland’s most feckless Archdiocese.

While we’re on the topic: what is the justification for the continued ban on religious services, especially for the over 85’s? After all, we are told that most over 85’s have now been vaccinated. Churches are large, and open, spaces. That demographic, as well as being the most likely to be vaccinated, is also the most likely to be religious. Further, it’s also the most likely to be socially isolated. What possible harm is there for allowing people in that age-group, for whom religious services are almost certainly more important than their younger peers, to return to mass, or church, or synagogue, or Mosque?

Religious services, it’s worth noting, are open in the UK, with social distancing. They’re open in most of the US, and most of Europe. Ireland is pretty much an outlier, in the western world, with its continued ban on attending a religious service.

The case on this matter taken by Declan Ganley is still pending before the courts. Many constitutional scholars expect him to prevail, if the courts ever get around to hearing it. In the meantime, though, the Church itself, in Ireland, remains as passive as ever in its own defence, imagining, you expect, that saying nothing will stop politicians from beating it up every time they need a cheap popularity boost. Fat chance.