ACP Statement on Christmas Masses

Association of Catholic Priests statement on public Masses for Christmas

Friday 4th December 2020

The go-ahead for public Masses given by the government, after the last lockdown was lifted, creates particular difficulties for priests and Parish Pastoral Councils (PPCs), especially in organising Masses on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Every parish is different in terms of priest numbers, size of churches and the resources available to effectively steward, sanitise and oversee the relevant protocols – social distancing, mask-wearing, etc – in order to ensure that the limited numbers allocated will gather for worship in safety.

That said, every parish has this in common: huge numbers of people – way beyond the number at typical weekend Masses – traditionally gather in churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There are fears this year that the listed arrangements will be overwhelmed by numbers gathering both inside and outside the church, creating a dangerous and unmanageable prospect, as NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team) has envisaged and as the science has predicted.

It is an open secret that there is huge concern if not alarm in parishes regarding how the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses can be organised and the need for caution in delivering a safe and manageable outcome.

A range of possibilities need to be considered. Some parishes are closing their churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Masses online through a webcam facility. In other cases, this is being combined with the opportunity for individuals or families to receive Communion and visit the Crib on Christmas Day by attending at the church within a number of specified hours and with supervised protocols in place.

Many priests and PPCs are being placed under undue and unfair pressure to multiply Masses, to organise a ticket allocation system, to agree unrealistic and dangerously inappropriate measures to sanitise church buildings and to recruit unrealistic numbers of volunteers.

This is a time for reflection by all concerned: for placing safety and science as our top priority; for estimating the value of a token Mass if it might endanger health or life itself; for recognising the reservations of NPHET in regard to gatherings around churches; and, not least, for challenging churchgoers who rightly long for and who will miss their traditional Christmas rituals by asking them to sacrifice them for this one year for their own and the community’s health and safety.

For parishes and churches there is no one size fits all solution and the worry (especially among priests) is that, with the end of COVID in sight now that vaccines are on the way, their particular church and parish may be the scene of a cluster of COVID cases – with devastating consequences. Having a public Mass in every church in every parish may be a price too high to pay. In present circumstances we need to err on the side of caution and wisdom. 


Roy Donovan 087-2225150; Gerry O’Connor 087-2320295

Tim Hazelwood 087-1337164; John Collins 086-8046020

For verification: Liamy Mac Nally, ACP Admin Sec 087-2233220



ACP Leadership Team member Tim Hazelwood writes:


Killeagh-Inch parish comprises approximately 1,000 homes in East Cork with two average size Churches and one serving priest. Each Christmas we celebrate 5 Masses for Christmas with huge numbers. The obvious difficulties  this year were discussed by our Pastoral Council and all options were considered. The feeling was that people’s safety comes first and we have decided to have no public Masses this Christmas. Instead a children’s liturgy will be celebrated online on Christmas Eve and Mass online on Christmas Day. We also intend to offer parishioners the opportunity to say a prayer, visit the crib and to receive Holy Communion on Christmas Eve in both Churches. The elderly and anyone with a medical condition are prioritised between 11.00am and 1.00pm and from 2.00pm until 6.00pm family groups are invited. Supervised protocols in line with Covid restrictions will be in place throughout..

Tim Hazelwood.

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  1. Brendan+Cafferty says:

    This statement seems sensible and reasonable. Why throw caution to the wind now that hopefully,the end may be in sight. I suspect it will take a few months to get vaccines organised. We dont want virus spreading where groups congregate,and we must have concerns for priests many of whom are getting on in years and are vulnerable

  2. Des+Gilroy says:

    Truly the ACP has lost the run of itself with this highly defeatest statement. Where a parish is well organised with true sharing of responsibility between priests and the liaity, with active and working parish pastoral councils and other parish groups, the organisation of Masses on Christmas Day present few problems that are unsurmountable. Hundreds of parishes throughout Ireland, where proper delegation has taken place, will do so without much fuss on this most important days in the Church calendar. Clarification of what the ACP refer to as a “token Mass” on a day when we celebrate the birth of Christ would be most interesting. This ACP statement is blatant scaremongering with its references to”huge concern if not alarm in parishes”, to “undue and unfair pressure to multiply Masses” and to “unrealistic and dangerously inappropriate measures to sanitise church buildings”. Our churches, with restricted numbers, very strict social distancing, stewarding and sanitising regimes are by far the safest places to be in the current circumstances and for the ACP and Fr Donovan in his Liveline Joe Duffy comments to suggest otherwise is a totally unwarranted slur on the many volunteers in parishes throughout the country who have made them so. To date there has been no suggestion that the virus has been passed onto anyone inside a church during a Mass. Time to come out of the trenches lads. For Christ’s sake!

  3. Pádraig+McCarthy says:

    Each parish has its own situation, and can make the appropriate decisions.

    In our Parish of the Ascension in Balally, Dublin, we are fortunate that during the time in summer when the churches were open to the congregation, we had a good system for booking places, either on line on the website or by phone to the parish office, so people are now accustomed to this.
    For Christmas, we continue the same plan, with Mass twice on Christmas Eve and twice on Christmas Day. For those in the neighbourhood participating on line, we invite those who wish to do so to come at the end of Mass when they may receive Communion.

    Where it is possible, it seems good to me that there be celebrations open to the public, with the strict controls, while assuring people that, however much they would like to be present, there is no pressure to come, so the choice is theirs, subject to the limitations of numbers in the church. It is good, where possible, that they have a choice. On the principle of subsidiarity, whenever possible it is preferable that the decision be made by the people themselves.

    When we reach the limit for a specific celebration, those who ask to come are informed that the list is full. We have a steward in the porch to check off each name as people enter. In this way we know how to contact people if there is need to.

    For those who choose not to come, it is good to suggest and encourage ways of celebrating the day at home, whether a Sunday or Christmas. Jesus is just as really present with them there. This does not in any way take from the value of gathering in the parish when possible, and underlines the link between the domestic church and the parish and universal Communion.
    For example, during Advent, they could light one or more candles for their own Advent wreath if they can do so safely, either as they accompany the celebration on line or at their meal later on. They could read from one of the readings for the day, or part of Chapter 1 of John where it speaks of the light.

    On Christmas Day they can do something similar, at their crib at home and/or at the meal. With Christmas Day this year on Friday, we also have Mass on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. We ask people who wish to come to Mass in the church to request for only one of the celebrations on Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, and Saturday and Sunday, so that as many as possible will be able to come.

    The Conference of Bishops suggests that people could come on one of the days in the 12 Days of Christmas. This could help re-orient the pattern where Christmas is seen as finishing with Christmas Day! In reality, that is just the First Day of Christmas. Over the years in the days following Christmas Day, I have been in the custom of wishing people a Happy Second (Third, Fourth, etc) Day of Christmas, right up to Epiphany.

  4. Rory Connor says:

    “Many priests and PPCs are being placed under undue and unfair pressure to multiply Masses…This is a time for reflection by all concerned: for placing SAFETY AND SCIENCE AS OUR TOP PRIORITY; for estimating the value of a TOKEN MASS if it might endanger health or life itself; for recognising the reservations of NPHET in regard to gatherings around churches; and, not least, for challenging churchgoers who rightly long for and who will miss their TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS RITUALS by asking them to sacrifice them for this one year for their own and the community’s health and safety.”

    I’m now on the wrong side of 70 and I don’t recognise this brand of Catholicism. As some of you know, over the past 20 years I have put a lot of effort into combatting the hysteria that surrounds allegations of child sex abuse including HERE:
    Seminar on Tuam Children’s Home (Online) – Transferred to Galway

    One thing I have especially noted over the past two decades, is that the failure of Churchmen and Women to stand up for us all, leads to further attacks by a secular society that always hated us and now despises us as well!

  5. Roy Donovan says:

    In reply to Des NO 2>
    I would be of a similar opinion that there is no evidence of the virus being caught within Churches in Ireland. Most parishes have remarkably stepped up to the mark in ensuring the safety of all within the building.

    However, there are examples of the virus spreading from people gathering outside Churches for funerals, communion and confirmation ceremonies.
    Managing Christmas Eve is a completely different challenge. Can the priest, stewards or pastoral council control what happens outside the Churches after ceremonies on Christmas Eve?

    We are presently seeing the dire consequences of what has happened in the USA from families travelling all over the country for Thanksgiving. Over 3000 people died from the virus there yesterday. This potentially brings a dangerous mix to our Christmas gatherings and ceremonies.

    Several lay people have phoned me to say they disagree with the ticket system that will be in operation for Christmas in many Churches – that it has the potential to create a lot of bad feeling within parishes. I suspect that most parishes have operated until now without a ticket system, but are now forced to do so for Christmas.

    Most lay people have not been consulted about the Christmas arrangements and some of these have said that they have no voice. They are not being heard. They are adamant that the loud few who seem to have a great sense of entitlement do not represent them. They think it is best that there would be no public masses in parishes on Christmas Eve and that these should be done through live streaming. In this way everyone in the parish is treated equally.

    Some point out that there are some beautiful Masses celebrated on livestream and they plan on listening to these on Christmas Eve. RTÉ, I am sure will also provide quality Masses during Christmas. It will be hard to come up with quality liturgies within parishes with the multiplicity of Masses that is presently being demanded this Christmas.

    Many parishes are struggling with Christmas arrangements. Des gives the impression that it is child’s play! It requires complex massive organisation – taking up a huge amount of time and energy. They don’t have enough volunteers, stewards etc. It is getting more and more difficult to get volunteers. Contrary to what Des implies I have the utmost respect for all volunteers and it is very remiss of you to imply otherwise.

    The reality is that Christmas Eve is a headache for most priests and parish councils. There are priests who will feel great relief if they can get safely to the other side of Christmas on the 27th. Some priests who intend to have Christmas dinner with a family member will think twice about joining them because of all the Masses they will be celebrating over Christmas and the potential of catching and spreading the virus.

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