THE Bishop of Killaloe has said he can’t understand restrictions on the celebration of the sacraments, in light of the fact that 40,000 people will be allowed to attend the All-Ireland finals.
Bishop Fintan Monahan added his voice to those of a number of senior clergy, including the Archbishop of Dublin, when he advised that confirmations and First Holy Communions can go ahead in mid-August, in cases where parishes have already set dates. He also acknowledged “a great deal of anger and frustration” over ongoing uncertainty for families.
The bishop had also referenced plans for some 70,000 people to attend Electric Picnic this September, but it has since emerged the festival has been cancelled after being refused a licence by Laois County Council.
— Electric Picnic (@EPfestival) August 5, 2021
“I have been in receipt of a huge amount of correspondence and calls from parents requesting to go ahead with ceremonies,” Bishop Monahan said. “Students have been prepared and waiting to celebrate the sacraments for some time and are anxious to do so. For many people such events are very important religious and social occasions and there is a huge spiritual and mental benefit associated with these sacred, time honoured rituals.
The bishop noted NPHET and government concerns about social events that take place after religious ceremonies and urged that public health guidelines be followed at all stages.
“Ceremonies will be carried out in a safe, small, socially distant manner, with minimal people present,” he said. “Clergy have appealed to people to keep the social occasions after to a minimum. In my experience the health authorities have done a great job in communicating the dangers involved and the vast majority of people have been very responsible and good in following the appropriate guidelines.
“Already Churches can have at least 50 present at Mass, 50 at baptisms, 50 at funerals and 100 at weddings. I can’t understand when all of this is the case and when 70,000 are being proposed for Electric Picnic and 40,000 for the All Ireland finals why there is such a fuss about 50 people being present for First Holy Communion and confirmation in the safe and regulated environment of a Church.”
Bishop Monahan said he has recommended to parishes to delay the celebration of First Holy Communion and Confirmation for as long as possible, “perhaps until Autumn if they can, at which time the majority of the population will be vaccinated and we are all in an even safer environment”.
He said that parishes have already set dates “they have been advised to go ahead from the middle of August with those scheduled ceremonies as in many cases they have been postponed on multiple occasions and a great deal of anger and frustration has been expressed about the ongoing uncertainty arising from the cancelations and postponements”.
Bishop Monahan urged that people “proceed with caution” bearing in mind the risks posed by the Delta variant.
Ennis Parish Priest, Fr Tom Ryan said confirmations will take place from next week. “Following the guidance of the Munster Bishop’s Conference, we will go ahead with confirmation for Ennis National School at the Cathedral on Friday, August 13,” he outlined. “Confirmation for Gaelscoil Donnacha Rua [Shannon] will take place on August 21. Everything will be done in line with the Covid-19 guidelines and instead of a single ceremony, we will have a number of smaller ceremonies for groups of 25.”
Fr Ryan urged families to keep the public health guidelines in mind at celebrations following the ceremonies. “I would appeal to all families to act responsibly,” he said. “The risk is not in the church setting, but in the social gatherings. I would ask people to be responsible in honouring confirmation day.”
Fr Ryan said that First Holy Communion ceremonies which were cancelled in July, on public health advice and following a letter from Bishop Monahan, would be rescheduled. “Nothing will happen there before September,” he said.
In Shannon, confirmation ceremonies will take place for primary schools on dates between August 18 and 23.
Meanwhile, in the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora, some confirmations have already taken place. In the parish of Ennistymon and Lahinch, Fr Willie Cummins said some students were confirmed before the end of the school year. He described the government guidance as being more appropriate to large urban settings and said there was a danger that sight had been lost of common sense.
“In country parishes, people understand the need to follow the guidelines and to stay in their family groupings,” he said. “Some of our schools have had their confirmations because doing it before the end of the term made perfect sense. The ceremonies took place on weekdays with social distancing and people sitting in their family groups. Afterwards, people made their own arrangements to celebrate at home.”
Fr Cummins, who defended his decision to celebrate in-person masses during lockdown, said it was time to allow people to use their common sense. “I’ve been a priest for 48 years and capable of using my judgement,” he said. “People are seeing a lot of inconsistency in the rules as they stand at the moment.”
Deputy Cathal Crowe described the restrictions as “illogical”. “The sensible thing now is to lay out plans as to how these ceremonies can be safely and in a socially distant manner,” he said.