Priests in Ireland Under Pressure to Celebrate Funeral Masses During the Pandemic

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin sent a letter to parishes reminding them of their obligation to follow the government’s new policies to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Photo: CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Despite regulations established by civil and ecclesiastical authorities to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many priests in remote areas of Ireland are feeling pressure to celebrate funeral Masses. In rural parishes, funerals are “big occasions for the community,” according to Father Brendan Hoban, co-founder of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests.

Some say the lack of a coordinated policy from the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference for all the dioceses in Ireland has left many priests without clear guidelines. 

“Priests would prefer if the bishops were to agree on a directive on the matter. As it is, each diocese is independent, so guidelines are not uniform,” Father Hoban said.

On March 28, the Government of Ireland published a set of strict measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. They are expected to stay in place until April 12. They include a ban on arranging gatherings “with anybody you do not live with” and instructing the population to stay home, except for “some workers in key businesses.”

“Measures called ‘cocooning’ have been put in place for those over 70 years of age and those who are extremely medically vulnerable to COVID-19,” the government guidelines indicate. “This is where they stay inside and isolate as much as possible.”

This guideline includes a large number of Catholic priests who are over the age of 70. After the measures were announced, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin sent a letter to parishes reminding them of their obligation to follow the government’s new policies.

Other bishops have also been proactive in taking all possible measures to avoid the contagion. In the diocese of Down and Connor in Clogher, bishops have instructed that funeral Masses will no longer take place and bodies of the deceased are to be brought directly to the burial site.

But six bishops in Western Ireland have instructed that funeral Masses can continue but with no more than 10 people allowed in the church, in accordance with government guidelines.

This morning, Archbishop Martin published new guidelines for the Holy Week in the Archdiocese of Dublin. All public Masses and religious services are suspended. 

“Regrettably, I feel that it will not be possible to have any public celebration of the Liturgies of Holy Week,” the archbishop said. “It would be very difficult to limit the number of those attending, especially on Good Friday, when many vulnerable people might feel obliged to come to our Churches.” 

The Archdiocese of Dublin will broadcast all Holy Week services from Pro-Cathedral and they will be available for the faithful to watch on the diocesan website.