CHECK LIST FOR RE-OPENING CHURCHES FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP
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.
Monday 11 May 2020