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'There are good things about a webcam, but Mass is about a gathering of people' - churches reopen for parishioners

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Fr Richard Sheehy, yesterday’s celebrant at St Columba’s. Photo: Mark Condren

Fr Richard Sheehy, yesterday’s celebrant at St Columba’s. Photo: Mark Condren

Fr Richard Sheehy, yesterday’s celebrant at St Columba’s. Photo: Mark Condren

Churches around the country once again rang out yesterday with the sounds of prayer after worshippers gathered for the first time in 16 weeks.

At St Columba's on Dublin's Iona Road, Glasnevin, a queue formed long before 10.30am Mass began and the doors had to be shut once the limit of 50 people for indoors gatherings was met.

Among those who secured a place was Mary Louise Nolan and four of her children. The children's scooters were left at the front porch and all the family sanitised their hands on entry.

"It felt great being back today, it was a long wait. They did a lot of work to get the church ready, you can see that from all the segregating and closing off of benches," she said.

However, along with fellow parishioners Betty O'Brien and Betty Cullen, she felt that limiting the number to 50 in a large church was "a shame". She said: "I would ask the Government to reconsider.

"They definitely could have had more people in the church than 50. I think for large churches that can accommodate more people, it is a shame to be turning people away from receiving Jesus."

During the lockdown, St Columba's parish secretary Sheila Hallahan had been watching Mass on the parish webcam, but it was not the same. "The church was empty and there was a hollow sound with no people in the congregation. That was the difference today - the hollow sound was gone and you could hear the responses from people."

Parish priest Fr Richard Sheehy said he was surprised at the level of interest as the church reopened.

"The fact that somebody is already queuing on a cold, windy day says something about how eager people are to come back," he told the Irish Independent.

"To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by just how many came this morning. I thought there might be a hesitation around receiving communion, but it was clear people were so happy to receive the eucharist."

At the end of the Mass, he asked the congregation to stay away today as the church is to host a funeral and the grieving family must be accommodated as a priority.

He also appealed to those who attended yesterday not to come to Mass every day to give others a chance to attend.

"There was a joy at returning amongst those who were here this morning. There have been a lot of good things about the webcam, but Mass is about a gathering of people," Fr Sheehy said.

"Sometimes people in the congregation don't appreciate how important that is for the celebrant. It is people gathering that makes Mass, it is not just what happens on the altar."

Irish Independent