IT IS set to be a Christmas like no other. Level 3 restrictions have allowed religious ceremonies to resume and the popular Christmas tradition of attending mass will be a very different this year. Between the parishes of Ennis and Doora-Barefield alone, an unprecedented 33 masses will be celebrated over two days in seven churches.
“We are of the firm belief that people want to come to Christmas mass and we will respond to that demand,” said Fr Tom Ryan, Co-PP of the Abbey Cluster. “We have to have social distancing and capacity restrictions, so our solution is to increase the number of masses. We’ll start on Christmas Eve at 4pm and finish with mass at midnight. On Christmas Day, we’ll have first mass at 7am and the last one at 6.30pm. We have the man power.”
The two parishes, who alongside Clarecastle and Ballyea, and Quin, Clooney and Maghera make up the Abbey Cluster, are stopping short of issuing tickets for mass. “We won’t be introducing ticketing,” Fr Ryan confirmed. “Our system will mean that once capacity is reached at a particular service, those arriving will be informed of the time of the next mass and asked to come back and attend that.”
There are also a few other changes to traditions which have been necessitated by the public health guidelines. “There are restrictions on singing,” the Co-PP outlined. “So, our choir director, Fiona Walsh arranged for the singing to be recorded last weekend, in compliance with social distancing. Our organist, Eoin Shanahan, will play at the services. The congregation are asked not to sing along. It’s strange but it’s necessary, and the one time you’ll get people wanting to sing along is at Christmas mass.”
Congregating after mass is also something that is not permitted this year and there will be no Children’s Mass in the Cathedral on Christmas Eve. “The whole situation this year is unique and arrangements this year are on a once-off basis,” Fr Ryan added.
Director of Communications for the Diocese of Killaloe, Fr Brendan Quinlivan agreed that the consensus in parishes seems to be to offer extra masses to facilitate as many people as possible. “People have a real nostalgia for a connection with spirituality and family at this time of year,” the PP of Tulla noted. “The obligation to attend Sunday mass is still suspended and some people might feel more comfortable attending on one of the other 12 days of Christmas. Parishes will be doing their very best and in Tulla we’ll have five masses on Christmas Eve and three on Christmas Day. When someone asked me how I’d manage, I said, ‘It’s not as if I’m digging fields.”
With many parish councils still finalising arrangements, Fr Quinlivan said some may opt for a registration or ticketing system. “Each parish will make its own plans and some may opt for a formal or informal booking system and the aim will be to accommodate as many people as possible across the different masses.”