LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Ireland’s bishops say they “fully support the guidance of the public health authorities” after public worship was suspended in the Republic on Wednesday due to a spike in cases of COVID-19 cases, although they are continuing to “engage constructively in the coming days with the civil authorities to ensure that our people have continued access to the support of Mass and the Sacraments and essential spiritual nourishment for these challenging times.”

The bishop’s statement came at the end of their Autumn assembly.

On Monday, it was announced that Ireland would enter “level 3” of COVID-19 prevention for three weeks – “level 5” would be a full lockdown. The capital Dublin has been at “level 3” for two weeks, and County Donegal for a week.

At “Level 3” public worship is suspended – although weddings and funerals can take place with limited numbers – but retail stores, restaurants, hair salons, and gyms can remain open.

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“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic the people of Ireland have endured testing times with courage, resilience, and compassion. Individuals and communities have made great sacrifices for the protection of life, health and the Common Good,” the Oct. 7 statement said.

“Like many others, the Church has endeavored to support the people of Ireland, north and south, in the face of considerable uncertainty and disruption. We owe a great debt of gratitude to our priests and to the many volunteers whose continued dedication has ensured that our churches have remained very safe places to gather for Mass and the Sacraments,” the bishops said.

The Republic of Ireland has seen 38,973 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, with 1,811 deaths. Northern Ireland has seen 16,187 cases and 586 deaths.

Both the Republic and the North have seen a sharp increase in cases since mid-August, although Northern Ireland has not stopped public worship services.

“Now that more restrictive measures are being put in place, we encourage people to persevere and not to lose heart.  Faith and prayer, in the home and in church can be a huge support in difficult times,” the bishops’ statement said.

The bishops said the communal celebration of Mass and the Sacraments – even with restricted numbers – is at “the very heart” of the Christian community.

“These are not simply ‘gatherings’ of people, but profound expressions of who we are as a Church.  For parishes, and individual Catholics, the loss of these spiritual supports can be a source of great anxiety, and fear, and can have a detrimental impact on their overall health and well-being,” the statement said.

The bishops also noted the pandemic is a global phenomenon that has most severely impacted those who are already seriously disadvantaged in terms of poverty and lack of access to healthcare.

“Although we are faced with difficult challenges in our own lives and our own land, let us not forget the need for solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who are suffering throughout the world,” the statement said.

The bishops also warned that the pandemic will affect Advent and Christmas celebrations, and said they will especially dedicate the month of November to remember those who have died and to comfort those who are bereaved.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

The original headline stated the government suspended Mass, instead of public worship. We apologize for the error.