Dublin Diocese preparing to re-open Churches


Some first reflections in the light of other European countries by

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

The reopening of Churches for public worship will require detailed preparation.  Each Church building and its surroundings is different and each Church should be preparing its own clear plan in order to be ready for opening.  On the other hand, the fact that the reopening of Churches will involve the movement of a very large number of people right across the State, perhaps on the same day, means that common public health considerations will have to be respected by all Churches.

The reopening of Churches in a number of European countries has in fact been accompanied by strict norms of public health.  The Irish public health authorities will be influenced by the measures taken in other European countries.  At first sight some of these measures may seem drastic, but they have been introduced in a number of countries.

Social distancing is not simply a question of marking out places on Church benches.  Questions arise also about entrance and exiting, about those with physical disabilities, of access to Holy Communion, of toilet and washing facilities, of cleansing or sanitizing of Churches.

This checklist is not a definitive work plan, but rather a list of the questions that each parish should be asking at this stage as it prepares its own plan and reflects on the personnel needs required to put that plan into action.

Safe distancing:  The seating in each Church should be marked, giving an indication of where people may sit in order to guarantee safe distancing.  Where necessary indications should be placed on floors.  Each parish should identify the nature of these indications and where the appropriate material can be sourced.

Church capacity: Once a seating plan has been decided, each parish should clearly define the maximum number of people that the Church can hold.  The Swiss authorities suggest that this will be about one third of the normal attendance.       When this number has been identified, the parish must consider how to deal with possible larger attendance. This could mean suggesting that numbers be systematically spread around the weekdays or that extra Masses be scheduled for Sunday.

Entry and Exit .  The parish plan must address how people can enter and leave the Church in a precise order, maintaining social distance and avoiding crowding, especially outside before and after Mass.  This might require, as with Supermarkets, indications of safe distance being marked outside the Church entrance. All European countries suggest separate entrance and exit doors.  They also request that hand sanitizers be place at all entrances.  Hand sanitizing at entrances will take time to use and will delay entry.  Parishes must examine how such hand sanitizer can be sourced.    The Italian norms foresee separate entry and space for the physically disabled. In France and Italy it is required that all the faithful wear a facemasks over mouth and nose for the duration of the liturgy.      Social distancing applies to ancillary rooms such as sacristies, which in some Churches may be quite confined.

For Holy Communion it would seem that the preferred option is for communion to be brought to people rather than by a procession to the altar.  The minister of Holy Communion should wear a facemask and disposable gloves.  Holy Communion should be distributed in the hand only and the Minister of Holy Communion should not touch the hand of the communicant. Doors should be left open to facilitate a smooth entrance flow and to avoid contact with door handles.

Toilet facilities: most Churches have very limited toilet facilities.  People who might use a toilet would be required by the general norms to wash their hands in warm soapy water.  This might be very difficult and it might be necessary to close all toilets.

Collections:  all the European measures prohibit the passing of collection baskets and suggest that suitable containers be placed at entrances or another place deemed appropriate.  Care would be required to avoid theft from such places.   Collectors and counters would have to observe social distancing.

Misalettes and hymn sheets should not be made available in Church buildings.

In Germany and Italy, it is noted that there should be no choir.

Cleansing of Churches:  all countries note that places of worship, including sacristies, are to be regularly sanitized after each celebration by cleaning with suitable antiseptic cleaning material.  At the end of each celebration sacred Vessels, cruets and other objects, including microphones are to be carefully disinfected. Holy Water fonts are to remain empty.

Exclusions:  all the various countries impose a ban on entry to liturgies by those with flu/respiratory symptoms, high body temperature, or anyone who has been in contact with Covid-19 people for a particular period.  Those who are obliged to remain in their residences may not be admitted to Churches.

Notices: some countries require that official notices be placed at Church entrances that specify the maximum numbers that can be present at a liturgy, the norms regarding social distancing and the categories not permitted to attend.

+Diarmuid Martin

Monday 11 May 2020


Diocese of Santa Fe

Mass in Church during COVID Pandemic: 1st Phase of Return 1 (Version of May 14, 2020)

These directives are promulgated by the Archbishop of Santa Fe for the early lifting of the suspension of publicly-attended Mass


  •   Attendance limited to 10% of building capacity (per fire marshal assessment).
  •   Dispensation from Sunday obligation remains for all.
  •   Safety/ common good is priority. Coordination with staff will be essential, as will be clear and

    detailed communication to the people.

  •   Local pastors can make these directives more stringent as necessitated by local conditions;

    however, they cannot make them less strict.

  •   Reopening will be accomplished in phases.
  •   The Archbishop/Vicar General will continue to offer live stream/recorded Mass each Sunday and

    weekdays, and parishes are encouraged to do so as well.

  •   Social distancing/masks/increased cleaning are mandatory. Each measure presents an

    additional layer of protection, which individually may be insufficient.

  •   Cleaning staff should be present to disinfect commonly-touched surfaces after each Mass (pews,

    door handles, rails, etc.) Have on hand ample cleaning supplies, and masks if possible.

  •   Persons over 60 and with compromised immune systems should be pre-advised that they are at

    increased risk and be encouraged to remain home.

  •   Communicate that these guidelines are for the safety of lives and health for themselves and

    neighbors, and that continued opening depends on everyone’s cooperation.

  •   The Archdiocese remains responsive to changes in conditions/requirements, and will revise

    these instructions periodically as necessary.

    In Churches

  •   No open holy water present. There may be a dispenser for people to fill bottles if desired.
  •   Wipe down commonly-touched items such as pews, chairs, ambos, hand rails, door handles, etc.

    between Masses. Prop open doors if possible.

  •   Remove missalettes/hymnals and worship aids; these are vehicles for contamination.
  •   Remember that livestreaming music requires a separate license.
  •   Restrooms to be disinfected after each liturgy, with disinfecting supplies also available for

    persons utilizing the facilities.

  •   Map out seating/give assignments with at least 6 ft distance between families in all directions.

    This may require roping off some pews.

  •   Consider reservations/revised capacity, and persons must sit where directed in clearly marked

    designated seats. They may not be able to get their “regular” place. Ushers will be needed to

    direct them.

  •   Cry rooms to be closed; inform families beforehand.
  •   Those of the same household sit together.

    Individual Responsibility

 Sick/symptomatic stay home, as well as those with health vulnerabilities or weakened immune systems.


Mass in Church during COVID Pandemic: 1st Phase of Return 2 (Version of May 14, 2020)

  •   Face masks are required for children age 3 and over. Parents are highly recommended NOT to bring children less than 3 years old. Persons without masks will be turned away until they can obtain one.
  •   Let persons know if masks/sanitizer available and that they are required.
  •   Persons with allergies who are sneezing/coughing please refrain from attending out of charity to



  •   No congregational singing so as to minimize spread of breath droplets. Cantor may sing, and use only one instrumentalist.
  •   Consider adding Masses to decrease attendance per Mass and allowing more to attend overall than the restrictions would allow with the normal Mass schedule. Persons should only attend one Mass or Communion service during the week to allow others to attend.
  •   Dispensation is given for both Mass AND Sunday Celebration without a Priest to be celebrated in the same parish on the same day, thereby allowing more persons to participate without overtaxing priest celebrants.
  •   Only the priest can be unmasked while celebrating the Mass. He should mask when not in a speaking role.
  •   Deacons: 1) wears masks; 2) remain at least 6 ft. from the priests; 3) does not attend at the altar; 4) may read the Gospel and preach; 5) may prepare the chalice only if maintaining social distancing from the priest and sanctuary personnel. The priest may wash his hands at the credence table.
  •   Do not utilize servers at present.
  •   Only minimal personnel in the sanctuary during Mass. Sanctuary seating/standing need adhere

    to social distancing.

  •   Use shortest liturgical forms (penitential rite, recitation of Mass parts, provided shorter

    readings, 2nd Eucharistic prayer, etc.) if available for the day, and only very brief homilies (3 minutes max). Decreased time = decreased contamination. The goal is 30-40 minutes for the Mass to minimize exposure/contamination.

  •   No handshakes/contact between families. Among family members is okay.
  •   Collection: Have a secure container for persons to place offerings rather than passing a basket.

    Encourage maximum utilization of online giving.

  •   Liturgy of the Eucharist

o Bread/wine is not to be processed, but come from covered containers from a credence

table in the sanctuary.
o Use palls/covered ciboria/coverings for the hosts throughout the liturgy.

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  •   Encourage attendees to bring their own disinfecting supplies to assist the parish during/between Masses.
  •   Prepare Children: Children 3 and older must have a mask and understand the need to wear it, having social distancing explained to them. Small children need to be with an adult at all times and not allowed to wander or visit with neighboring persons/families. Children younger than 10 should be accompanied by a responsible adolescent/adult at all times, including in the restroom.


Mass in Church during COVID Pandemic: 1st Phase of Return 3 (Version of May 14, 2020)

o Only priests should receive from the chalice; each priest to have his own chalice if concelebrating.

o Priestsover60yearsoldarestronglyadvisedtonotdistributeCommunionthemselves. o Hosts only for the congregation’s Communion, and only in the hand in order to decrease

possibility of cross-contaminations by: 1) inadvertent touching of saliva; and, 2) breath

droplets transferred to the hand of the minister.
o Per USCCB recommendations, Communion is to be be distributed as people exit the

o All ministers/EM of Holy Communion are to very visibly sanitize hands prior to

distributing. (Gloves/tongs add no more protection than bare hands because each can be cross-contaminated.) A cloth soaked in a non-toxic disinfecting agent (e.g., alcohol) might be used after some number of communicants for extra precaution.

o Priests/deacons/EMHCsmustwearmaskswhiledistributingCommunion.
o EnsureadequatedistancingofEMHCs.
o PlacemarkersorotherwiseenforcesocialdistancingduringHolyCommunion. o No after-Mass assemblies. People should depart immediately after Mass.

 Procedure for Holy Communion:
o Priest(s) receives Communion at the altar as normal. Deacon(s) do not.
o Priest cleanses vessels or lays them aside for cleansing after Mass.
o Very brief announcements, if any.
o Final prayer, blessing and dismissal.
o Priest/deaconsremovechasubles/dalmaticsanddonmasks.
o Priest distributes Communion to deacons/EMHCs. All ministers receive ciboria and

move to their distribution points.
o Ushers dismiss congregation by rows to receive Communion and/or depart.
o ALL communicants should be masked, receive the host in their hand, and stepping aside

prior to lifting mask for consuming, and then exit the building immediately.

 After Mass/Preparation for Mass
o Minimal personnel in sacristy, all with masks and maintaining social distance. o Wash vessels with soap & water.
o Hosts only for congregation, and sufficient wine only for priests.

For Various Rites:

  •   Any rites with Mass follow the above guidelines.
  •   Baptism water changed each time (bless container of water each baptism and dispose of

    properly; use fresh water each time to avoid cross-contamination).

  •   Minister should sanitize hands visibly just before the rite in order to give reassurance to


  •   Masks/sanitizer/social distancing should always be used.
  •   Outdoor assemblies at cemeteries should be masked and maintain social distancing.


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One Comment

  1. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    There was a bilateral Meeting between Taoiseach and Catholic Church leaders on 14. MAY, 2020. I understand it was a meeting on-line.
    It is not shown on the Home Page of the website of the Conference of Catholic Bishops. For some reason (or no reason?) it has to be searched for by clicking News, and then Latest News.
    The note is as follows:
    The Taoiseach, today (Thursday 14 May), met with representatives of the Catholic Church, Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly (President, Vice President and Secretary of the Irish Episcopal Conference) to share thoughts on the reopening of places of worship over the course of the summer. The Church shared information on the work that is being done at all levels to develop a national Church plan for the safe reopening and emphasised it will play its part in applying public health measures to ensure the health and safety of its congregation.

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