All confirmations across the diocese have been suspended until further notice and the church are asking people to be mindful to try and keep numbers down at funerals, paying mind to the limits of 100 people set on indoor events as part of the measures taken to combat the spread of coronavirus. In another unusual measure, baptisms will now be carried out using cotton buds.
The diocese is encouraging people to take all precautions necessary and to keep an eye on parishioners who may find themselves isolated at this difficult time.
'The Diocese is mindful of the necessity for prayer at this time and in union with all other Dioceses in Ireland it invites parishioners to place trust in the Lord, asking Our Lady to intercede for us,' said spokesman Fr John Carroll. 'As people of faith, we are called to face the fears of this moment with a courage not our own and with a generous heart. In our hour of trial Jesus calls on us, his followers, to serve the common good by taking responsibility for each other and to prioritise the most vulnerable in our community ahead of our own individual wants and aspirations. At this time our first concern has to be for the elderly, the ill and those with underlying medical conditions.'
Parishioners who have symptoms of coronavirus are asked not to present themselves at church over the coming weeks, as are anyone with underlying conditions or those who may be vulnerable should they contract covid-19.
'We strongly encourage people with such conditions to be spiritually united with their local community,' Fr Carroll said. 'Where possible they should avail of parish radio broadcasts and webcam. While in church and as far as possible people are asked to keep a safe distance from one another, in keeping with current advice.'
While all confirmations are indefinitely suspended, people are being asked to prioritise the needs of grieving families and close friends as the church tries to keep numbers at funeral masses below 100.
'Prayerful attendance at the cemetery (500 people) is an option for members of the wider community,' Fr Carroll said, before adding that those sympathising should not shake hands.
During baptism, the celebrant will sign the child with cross without touching. Where there is more than one child being baptised, a single jug of fresh water will be blessed and used. The anointing with the holy oils will be administered by the use of cotton buds.
The guidelines issued by the diocese state that 'in the current emergency situation, all are dispensed from the obligation to physically attend Sunday Mass. 'That said, Sunday Masses can proceed as scheduled for congregations of up to 100. In cases where the numbers exceed this figure, parishioners returning home without Mass are asked to consider private and/or family prayer. Weekday Masses can proceed in a similar manner. In short - Sunday Masses, weekday Masses, weddings, funerals and baptisms may be celebrated once the requirement that attendance in Church does not exceed 100 people is respected.'
Despite this, a number of the larger churches have taken matters into their own hands and have cancelled Masses until further notice. In Enniscorthy, St Aidan's Cathedral announced that there would be no public Masses until further notice, but the cathedral would be open for public prayer from 10.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. In Wexford town, Bride Street and Rowe Street churches have cancelled all public masses, but 10 a.m. Mass will be broadcast from Bride Street everyday at 10 a.m. on 106FM and both churches will also be open during the day for prayer.
All non-essential pastoral gatherings and meetings are cancelled, while priests will use a cotton bud or surgical glove for the pastoral care of the sick and the anointing with holy oil.
Priests are being asked to provide an alternative to the practice of passing collection baskets, but people are asked to 'continue their generous contributions to the upkeep of their parish'.
Hand sanitisers will be located at the entrance of each church, where it can be sourced; holy water fonts will remain empty; the sign of peace is not to be expressed by hand-shaking; only the priest will receive from the chalice at Mass and priests will sanitise their hands before and after distributing holy communion.
The diocese will continue to monitor the situation and church-specific information will be updated and published on the diocesan website www.ferns.ie.
Meanwhile, Bishop Michael Burrows of the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory has announced the suspension of all Church of Ireland ceremonies until at least March 29. This includes the indefinite suspension of confirmation services.