With the beginning of Advent recently, preparations have begun in earnest in parishes across the country for the celebration of Christmas – albeit in a very different context this year. Priests working with Parish Pastoral Councils are making decisions at a local level on how best to celebrate Christmas in a safe manner. We extend our sincere gratitude to parish teams throughout the country – including stewards and cleaners – who generously ensure that our churches are safe environments where people can confidently assemble for worship. Their task, as Christmas approaches, will not be easy, and we appeal to all the faithful to cooperate fully with them.
We strongly encourage the faithful to keep Christ at the centre of Christmas this year. Clearly it will be impossible for our usual large congregations to assemble for Mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We wish to remind Catholics that the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days remains suspended during the pandemic. But Christmas is about more than just one day. Families are welcome to attend Mass at some point during the twelve days from Christmas Eve to Epiphany. Christmas Masses will also be widely available over webcam and we strongly encourage families to “tune in” from the “domestic churches” of their living rooms and join with those who are gathering in their local churches in welcoming the birth of the Christ-child.
Extract from A message from the Irish bishops: “Keep Christ at the Centre of Christmas” –
2 December 2020
The members of the Parish Pastoral Council, working with the Nenagh Parish COVID-19 Management Group, considered the options in relation to the celebration of Masses this Christmas. After lengthy and often painful consideration, it was decided that the best option was to hold Christmas ceremonies in the absence of a congregation. The decision to hold Masses online only was based on experiences to date of having to abide by the guidelines issued by the government during Level 2 and Level 3 (with exceptions). Without the generosity of those who volunteered as Stewards and Cleaners we would have been unable to welcome people back into the church buildings for Mass. The reality of Stewards having to restrict access to the church building was not a pleasant experience on their part nor on that of parishioners who were denied access. This situation was a regular experience, especially during weekend Masses.
The wellbeing of each person is paramount, and the restrictions exist to ensure the safety of each individual entering our church buildings. How to control numbers is an issue that is very sensitive to address. Fortunately, here in Nenagh Parish we have a very good communications system in our Parish Radio and Webcam. Over the years people have become accustomed to the benefits of connecting via both channels of communication. A decision to celebrate the Masses on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day and Sunday 27 December, in the absence of a congregation allows for the safety of everyone. It also directed us to seeing that the core of our faith is nourished at home with our families.
One might reasonably ask, why not welcome the permitted number into Masses at Christmas as usual. The heartbreaking reality of this is that on Christmas Eve night and on Christmas Day, our churches are typically full to capacity. How do we select the maximum number people for admission to each Mass and refuse many hundreds, possibly thousands, of others over the course of the period? Who do we exclude? Those who are home to Nenagh for their Christmas visit with family? Those who attend the church all throughout the year? We have examined all of the options and as painful as this decision is, it is the only one that is fair to everyone. It is also the safest.
Gathering at home as family and linking in with the celebrations from our church buildings via the Parish Radio / Webcam is what the Irish Bishops describe as the “Domestic Churches”. Are the restrictions of COVID-19 directing us to see a flicker of light in the growth of our faith as we gather together in our homes at the crib, at table, by the lighted candle at the window or wherever a family can find a space to pray? While the decision of the Parish Pastoral Council may seem to some as a restriction on our celebrations, can we see it as a safer option allowing everyone to be treated equally and families to pray together? After all, Joseph and Mary were locked out of the Inn and what was at first a very disappointing experience allowed the Infant Jesus be born in a stable and welcomed by both shepherds and royalty!!! Maybe this year’s restricted experience is giving us a more realistic understanding of the true meaning of Christmas?