2 December 2020


          In writing the other day, I stressed that in the current situation leading up to Christmas:


We should be careful not to do anything that might compromise safety during the re-opening of Churches.  We have to be especially careful not to be fostering any concentration of ceremonies involving gatherings of large numbers of children, especially in this winter season.  Reducing the number of gatherings is a key element in the fight to curb the spread of the virus.


          I am very concerned that there are a number of parishes that have been proposing to hold First Holy Communion ceremonies for large numbers of children, whether with or without the participation of parents


          I am again very concerned that large numbers of children would be invited to make First Holy Communion without the presence of parents.  This would lead to situations of gatherings of people outside Churches and inevitably to a breakdown in social distancing on a very large scale.


          My policy is in general to leave decisions to the good sense of individual parishes, taking into consideration local circumstances.  However in this case I believe that some parishes are moving into the area where they would be putting the health of families and the wider community at high risk and in such circumstances my advice is not to hold First Communion or Confirmation ceremonies at this moment.


          There is a false impression on the part of some that we have returned to the circumstances of low risk more generally associated with Level 2 of the government regulations.  This is not the case.  We are at Level 3 with a special concession to allow Churches to be open for public worship to enable us to prepare for Christmas.   This is a limited concession for which we are appreciative.  It must however be understood within the wider imperative of reducing gatherings to what is essential.


          With regard to the celebration of Christmas, I would ask parishes to be in close contact with their neighbouring parishes to ensure some policy cohesion.  In some cases parishes are intending to provide a very large number of Mass on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day.  In other cases, parishes wish to suspend the celebration of Mass on those days.  Each parish may have different situations, but encouraging people to travel from one parish to another involves once again unnecessary movement and gatherings of people.


          I would encourage parishes to avoid rushing onto a concentration of Masses just on two days and to look at using the traditional twelve days of Christmas as one period within which people could be invited to attend Mass.  In other cases, families should be encouraged to come together to visit the Crib during this period.  The Sunday obligation remains suspended and no one should feel forced to attend Mass if they feel unsure of the risk involved for them or for others. In such circumstances, parishes could offer prayer resources for families and parishioners to help them welcome the Christ-child into their homes at Christmas.    


          You will notice that Pope Francis has suspended public functions in the days leading to Christmas in order to reduce gatherings of people.  He will not attend the traditional ceremony on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and numbers at his Christmas Masses are being drastically reduced.


+Diarmuid Martin

December 2nd 2020