Priests under pressure to perform funeral Masses despite Covid-19

Catholic priests under pressure to perform funeral Masses despite Covid-19

Significant numbers of Irish Catholic priests cocooned in their homes as they are over 70

Patsy McGarry

Catholic priests are coming under continuing pressure to hold funeral Masses, particularly in rural Ireland, despite Government restrictions due to coronavirus.

Fr Brendan Hoban, co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, called on the Irish bishops “as a body” to agree guidelines for the conduct of funerals which would apply in all dioceses.

Some priests, particularly in rural parishes, “are coming under pressure to hold funeral Masses” which are “big occasions for the community”, he said.

To avoid pressure and variations in the practice, “priests would prefer if the bishops were to agree a directive on the matter. As it is, each diocese is independent, so guidelines are not uniform,” he said.

In the diocese of Down and Connor and in Clogher, bishops have instructed that funeral Masses will no longer take place. In Clogher, the body of the deceased is to be brought directly to the burial ground.

Meanwhile, the six west of Ireland Catholic bishops have decided that funeral Masses can continue but in accordance with current Government guidelines – in the presence of no more than 10 people.

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said he and his colleagues, Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary, Bishop of Galway Brendan Kelly, Bishop of KillalaJohn Fleming, Bishop of Clonfert Michael Duignan, and Administrator of Achonry diocese Fr Dermot Meehan, had Zoom conferences most days to take account of updated coronavirus regulations.

On Tuesday, the Government advised that up to 10 members of the immediate family of a deceased person can attend funerals, burials and cremations.

Liz Canavan of the Department of an Taoiseach told a briefing that social distancing protocols should be followed and the numbers might be restricted to less than 10 if any part of the ceremony is taking place in a confined space. It applies to all funerals, including those for people who have not died with Covid-19 symptoms.


Religious personnel are among those deemed essential under expanded Government regulations to tackle coronavirus.

However, with many Irish Catholic priests aged over 70, it is believed a significant number are confined to their homes.

Among them, five Catholic bishops are cocooned including Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin (who will be 75 and eligible for retirement on April 8th), Archbishop of Tuam Michael Neary (73), Bishop of Ferns Dennis Brennan (74), Bishop of Galway Brendan Kelly (73), and Bishop of Killala John Fleming (72). None of the Church of Ireland bishops is over 70.

Dr Martin said: “Priests over the age of 70, including myself, are not to leave their homes. This brings extra work and pressure and stress on all those who remain in frontline ministry.”

In a comment on the archdiocese’s website, he said: “Some parishes may no longer have a priest available. Deaneries should become a focal point for co-ordinating services.”

Bishop Doran said in his Elphin diocese 21 priests were cocooned, with other priests designated to assume their duties.

Easter ceremonies

Meanwhile, Holy Week and Easter ceremonies will be conducted in empty churches. The Good Friday Way of the Cross event in Dublin’s Phoenix Park is cancelled as is the annual ecumenical city centre walk on that day.

A Vatican decree has advised that the Holy Thursday “washing of the feet” is to be omitted next week and grants special permission for celebration of the Mass “without the presence of the people”.

At the Good Friday liturgy “the adoration of the Cross by kissing it shall be limited solely to the celebrant” while the Easter Vigil “is to be celebrated only in cathedral and parish churches”. In all instances, there is to be one celebrant and no sign of peace.

In guidelines issued by the Church of Ireland on Tuesday, clergy over 70 or with an underlying condition are told they “should be self-isolating/cocooning at home” and “should not be taking funerals at this time”. No Church of Ireland public services are to take place until further notice.


Similar Posts


  1. Mattie Long says:

    I’m afraid that the new guidelines about funerals issued (31/03/2020) by the Government may add to the unnecessary confusion that already exists because different regulations are being implemented in their dioceses by individual bishops.

    It should be a matter of great worry and alarm that bishops are adopting dissimilar and contrary positions at a time when unity and uniformity is truly needed for the good of church and society.

    Because of the lack of a unified stance it is now possible that neighbouring parishes, that happen to be in different dioceses, will have different regulations concerning the delicate issue of funerals. Treating people differently at such a sensitive time will not only cause misunderstanding but may also generate great resentment and anger towards church that could last years and decades.

    There is also the issue of whether churches should now be closed or left open.
    Bishops in six Western dioceses say churches may remain open “with social distancing and hygiene requirements in mind”.
    I don’t know what ‘hygiene requirements in mind’ means in the context of COVID-19.
    What ‘hygiene requirements’ are required in a large open building such as a church that allows unmonitored and unfettered access? What degree of cleaning is required, and how often, so that there is no risk of passing on the virus and compromising a person’s health or endangering their life?
    Also, is keeping churches open not encouraging some people to flout the Government direction to ‘Stay at Home’ and travel no more than 2km without absolute necessity?
    Bishop Fintan Monahan of Killaloe makes this very point when he stated

    “Church buildings are to remain closed until April 12th. Apart from the fact that all are meant to stay at home, it is practically impossible to ensure that surfaces in church buildings would be cleaned regularly, and that the numbers entering churches would be supervised.”

    Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor is even more direct on the subject of funerals and has been quoted:

    “It is simply too risky to gather inside buildings, even in small numbers. We must proactively exercise extreme care for each other and for ourselves; to do otherwise would be un-Christian”.

    While the time of pandemic is a most desperate time for grieving family members we need to be very careful that our well-intentioned acts do not lead to further illness, death, misery and heartbreak.

    This is no time for our church in Ireland to be practising any form of ‘exceptionalism’.

    There is ample evidence world wide, (see some sample links below,) in the U.S.A., Canada, U.K., Spain, Kenya, South Africa, France, and Malaysia of outbreaks of covid-19 being traced to funeral and church gatherings.
    One particular case in an evangelical church in France seems to have had catastrophic consequences;

    The penny finally dropped on March 2nd, when a solitary inhabitant of Nîmes who drove back alone from Mulhouse tested positive. “Eureka!,” Christophe Lannelongue, an investigator for the ARS told Radio France. “It was the gathering at the Christian Open Door in Mulhouse!”
    Even then, authorities believed that only a few hundred of the faithful had been contaminated. It took more than a month for the prayer week to be recognised, in the words of French health minister Olivier Véran, as “the tipping point” of the French epidemic, which by Tuesday had infected 44,550 people and claimed 3,024 lives.
    The church gathering was “like an atom bomb that fell on us in February, and we didn’t see it”, Lannelongue continued. “After February 21st [when the gathering ended] people did not know they were infected, because they had few symptoms.”

    There are similar problems in Israel with some ultra orthodox Jews still gathering for funerals.

    Sample Links

  2. Peter O’Reilly says:

    The situation in Dublin is becoming critical with the entire staff of many parishes cocooning due to age or underlying medical conditions with those remaining sometimes covering three or more parishes for funerals . In many cases those with underlying health conditions keep going because there is nobody else to step in. This has stripped bare the true nature of the crisis to come with an ageing priesthood.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.