Ireland's four Catholic archbishops have requested a meeting with the country's prime minister to raise concerns about the fact that it is the only place in Europe where public worship has been suspended in response to a fresh wave of COVID-19.
The four metropolitan archbishops wrote to Prime Minister Micheál Martin -- known as the Taoiseach, the Irish language word for chief -- Oct. 8 to highlight the disappointment of parishioners in the Irish Republic. Mass continues to be permitted in Northern Ireland, where the devolved power-sharing government has said it recognizes the spiritual and emotional benefits, but some parishes span the border.
The four archbishops said they respect public health guidelines, but they wished to "engage constructively with the civil authorities" to ensure that people can continue to gather for Mass and the sacraments. They requested a meeting to make their case.
Masses "are not simply 'gatherings' of people, but profound expressions of who we are as a church," they said.
The letter was signed by Archbishops Eamon Martin of Armagh, Northern Ireland, president of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference; Diarmuid Martin of Dublin; Michael Neary of Tuam; and Kieran O'Reilly of Cashel and Emly.
The prelates described the Mass and sacraments as "essential spiritual nourishment for these challenging times ... communal celebration of Mass and the sacraments -- even with restricted numbers -- is at the very heart of what it means for us to be a Christian community."
They also pointed out that "for parishes and individual Catholics, the loss of these spiritual supports can be a source of great anxiety and fear and can have a detrimental impact on their overall health and well-being."
Public Masses were suspended in the Irish Republic March 13 and, under a government plan, were not scheduled to recommence until July 20. However, after extensive church lobbying and the establishment of volunteer committees in every parish to ensure hygiene and physical distancing, Masses recommenced June 29 with a limit of 50 people. The National Public Health Emergency Team announced Oct. 5 that all religious services should move online due to an increase in cases of coronavirus.
In a statement following an online plenary meeting of the Irish bishops' conference Oct. 7, the bishops said that "now that more restrictive measures are being put in place, we encourage people to persevere and not to lose heart."
Referring to the Nov. 2 feast of All Souls, the bishops said November 2020 "will be particularly poignant. We sense a huge yearning for consolation and hope in the heart of our people.
"We are especially mindful in 2020 of those grieving families, who, because of restrictions, have been unable to experience the customary spiritual and community supports which are so much part of our Irish tradition," the statement added.
The hierarchy also announced that on Nov. 1, the bishops and priests of Ireland would lead a short service of prayer to dedicate the month of November to remembrance of the dead and prayer for the bereaved.
"We invite the whole country to unite in this moment, which will be followed by parish liturgies throughout the month of November, reaching out as much as possible to those who cannot be physically present," they said.