BALANCING physical health with the viability of the economy may be the challenge facing the government at the moment, but a call has been made by an East Clare priest for the emotional and spiritual health of the nation to be factored in too.
Parish Priest of Tulla, and Communications Officer for the Diocese, Fr Brendan Quinlivan, said he is hopeful that, even under the current level 3 restrictions, consideration may be given to allowing masses to resume. Since the guidelines ramped up a gear last week, religious ceremonies have moved online and the four Catholic archbishops have sought a meeting with the Taoiseach over what are seen as inconsistencies in the level 3 guidelines.
“The guidelines would seem to suggest that while it’s fine for 15 people to go training or to a gym, 15 people wearing masks and social distancing can’t attend a mass,” Fr Quinlivan said. “There is a concern that religious observance is being treated as non-essential. From the point of view of a large cohort of our faithful, it is as essential as it is for the 15 people who want to be able to go to a pub or restaurant and drink and eat outside.
“My concern would be for the overall well-being of people and that includes their spiritual, emotional and mental health. I would be hopeful that a way could be found for people to participate in religious services,” he added. “Many people aren’t online and more people still attend daily mass than read a newspaper every day.”
The parish priest stressed that while there is some hope that the bishops’ call will be considered, the church is currently complying and will adhere to whatever verdict the government and public health advisors reach.
“We certainly don’t want to be contravening guidelines, and all of this discussion could very quickly be moot, at the rate things are changing,” he said. “We want to engage in best practice and we had a huge rate of compliance from once masses returned until they were suspended when we went to level 3.”
In relation to the celebration of Christmas liturgies, Fr Quinlivan said the issue was still in the realms of speculation. “I raised the topic of Christmas at a parish council meeting recently,” he said, “and we concluded that everything ahead is guess work. If we remain at level 3, we would be looking at a situation where everything will be online. If we go back to level 2, with a limit of 50 people at a mass, we would be looking at rolling out more services or having people book in advance, but I would hope that it doesn’t come to that.”
Fr Quinlivan also noted that a recent encyclical from Pope Francis had urged people to revisit the solidarity shown in the first wave of the pandemic and the lockdown. “People are resilient and hopeful of an end to the pandemic,” he said. “For now, we have to renew our solidarity. We need to stop pitting one section of society against another. The government is balancing physical and economic well-being. My big fear is that we need to factor in emotional and mental health and attending at mass is still a big part of the emotional well-being of many people.”