LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s top prelate is calling on “the younger members of our parishes” to help manage the transition back to full parish life and celebration of the sacraments as the island eases out of the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland said younger people will need to assist with cleaning, stewarding, reading, ministering the Eucharist and other roles and responsibilities, since older people are more at risk from the virus, and will need to be shielded as Ireland begins to reopen society.

“Over the next few weeks our parishes will prepare for the reopening of churches to public worship,” the archbishop said during his Sunday Mass.

“We realize that this will happen slowly and tentatively at first. Some people may prefer, for a while, to continue to join us virtually from home over webcam, because of their vulnerability or because of nervousness about going out immediately into gatherings. Some of our priests are cocooning and will be unable, at first, to provide their usual services and ministry,” he added.

During the lockdown, the churches in the Republic of Ireland were allowed to stay open for private prayer, although Northern Ireland forbid even this until mid-May.

Under the guidelines issued by the Irish government, public Masses are expected to begin on June 29; Northern Ireland does not have a date set for the resumption of public liturgies. The bishops of Ireland are meeting via videoconference on Monday to finalize their reopening plans.

In his remarks on Sunday, Martin acknowledged that physical distancing and hygiene requirements will mean fewer people will be allowed in church buildings, and certain liturgical practices will be adjusted to take account of health recommendations.

“Of course, we know that we must all remain responsible in helping to keep the virus suppressed by practicing physical distancing, good hygiene and by continuing to respect health guidelines on movement and gatherings. We are advised that the easing of lockdown is a fragile process and it is only if we all continue to work together that the number of cases can be reduced or kept at a level which is manageable for our frontline health services and carers,” the archbishop said.

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