Planning for the Celebration of Public Mass

-Planning for the celebration of Masses with a congregation-

On Thursday 18th June, the Northern Ireland Executive announced a further easing of restrictions in Northern Ireland, thereby granting permission for the celebration of public worship in Churches. What that now means in effect is, that as of Monday 29th June, parishioners can gather together for the celebration of Mass, observing the health guidelines and social distancing protocols. We await permission for the celebration of Baptisms; that permission will hopefully emerge soon.

Obviously for the celebration of public Masses, i.e. with a congregation present, each parish will be required to prepare carefully in a safe and balanced way. Parishes will employ all reasonable steps to ensure the health and safety of those who will attend Mass. It should be made clear that it would not be advisable to simply offer a restoration of the Mass timetable that existed prior to the lockdown. It will take time to re-build the Mass timetable, in a safe and progressive manner, beginning with a limited number of Masses and progressing sensibly thereafter.

At present, each parish within our Derriaghy-Colin Pastoral Community is preparing for the resumption of public Masses. There are a number of aspects to this preparation:

  • Preparing the churches in terms of hygiene.
  • Identifying and marking out the seating plan to promote the two-metre social distance within the church building.
  • Identifying the maximum number of parishioners to be safely accommodated within the church building during Masses.
  • Formulating and completing risk assessments, which are informed by legislative and insurance requirements.
  • Enlisting a team of volunteers who will act as stewards, to guide and assist those who will attend Mass.

There are many other aspects to the preparatory work. This will involve a lot of time and effort in preparation, which must be completed before public Masses resume.

The priests of the Pastoral Community are presently discussing and formulating a Mass timetable; the intention is that a number of weekday Masses will be provided in each church at first instance. The experience of weekday Mass will then inform stage two of the process, which will be the formulation of a weekend Mass timetable in due course.

It is recognised that parishioners have been very patient since the suspension of public Masses in the month of March. We ask for your continued patience in the weeks ahead, as together, we devise a way forward, that is safe and reassuring to all.

It is absolutely essential that each parish will have a sufficient number of volunteers who will help to sanitise the church before and after Mass, and who will also present themselves to steward the Masses. Without this assistance from willing parishioners, it would be impossible to offer Mass with a congregation. Please consider offering your time and energy in the service of your parish. Please contact the parish office or priest of your parish to offer your help as a volunteer.

The Diocesan guidelines emphasise that those who are considered vulnerable in terms of health or age, should seriously consider whether it is appropriate or not, to assemble in an enclosed space with others. The guidelines also make it clear that the suspension of the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation remains in place.

In the near future, the proposed Mass timetable for weekdays will be advertised in the parishes of the pastoral community. We look forward to the resumption of the public celebration of Mass, whereby our parishioners will be welcomed, and we delight in that privilege.

Fr Brian McCann VF

Fr Colin Crossey Deputy VF