Cllr questions 50 person limit on church gatherings

McCabe says 50-person limit needs to be reviewed given capacity of cathedrals and large churches

The 50 person limit on indoor gatherings in churches has been questioned by Cllr Paul McCabe who said it was hard to fathom in certain places of worship which can easily hold many more.

He also said that if the one metre social distancing rule is relaxed for pubs and restaurants, then the same should apply to places of worship.

“The Government has said it anticipates that churches across the country would reopen for public worship this week, with social distancing guidelines in place.

“As it stands there is a 50 person limit on all indoor gatherings which will rise to 100 on 20th July. You could point to any cathedral or many churches in the country and it would easily fit a much larger crowed, many of them up to 2,000 people.

“Parishes across Meath have really stepped up and been innovative in reaching their parishioners. During lockdown the broadcasting of services on television and the live streaming on webcams greatly helped people. They are also working extremely hard to put in place new measures to ensure a safe reopening for all their parishioners.

“But as is acknowledged by all that the online or television services are not a substitute to being able to celebrate the eucharist and have access to the other sacraments. There are children and families wondering when their communion or confirmation might take place and with the 50 person rule in place it’s likely these still won’t happen for some time," he said.

"I have written to the Minister for Health seeking clarity on the issue. People’s faith is very important to them and it is clear they are eagerly awaiting a return to church services,” Cllr McCabe concluded.

Meanwhile, Skryne parish priest Fr Thomas O'Mahony has outlined the new format for weekend masses, which he is to celebrate outdoors.

In the RST (Rathfeigh Skryne Tara) community newsletter, he says: "Our first Mass will take place in Rathfeigh on Saturday evening at 6pm on 4th July. As usual there will be a 9am and 11am mass in Skryne on Sunday 5th July. Our priority is to stay safe and healthy and accommodate as many parishioners as possible while adhering to HSE guidelines and social distancing. Therefore, we have decided to celebrate Mass outside."

"For this purpose, we have purchased a gazebo for each church. We would envisage a family taking up a position on the church grounds. The gazebos will be on the grass as the altar will be placed in the gazebo to allow me to celebrate mass in all weathers," he explains.

"If we went indoors at present only 25 people could attend the 6pm mass in Rathfeigh and a maximun of 50 at the 9am and 11am in Skryne due to HSE guidelines and social distancing." The gazebo will be on the grass in both churches with the best panoramic view possible. New speakers and sound systems have been installed in both churches. In the event of rain parishioners can attend mass and remain in their cars while tuning into the mass on their car radio.

Fr O'Mahony adds: "Parishioners have kindly volunteered to be Eucharist Ministers and ushers. The distribution of communion may take a little longer, but I am confident we will manage this as a community. Under diocesan guidelines we are instructed that all communion must be received on the hand."

Confirmation ceremonies in various parishes have been moved to neighbouring parishes with larger churches, with Moynalvey parish moving its Confirmation ceremony to Dangan Church on Tuesday 4th August, and Kilmessan/Dunsany moving to St Patrick's Church, Trim, on Monday 31st August.

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