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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland churches move to restrict funerals

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Bishop Noel Treanor

Bishop Noel Treanor

Bishop Noel Treanor

Some churches in Northern Ireland are to restrict funeral services in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Churches and other places of worship have been closed for all services and all events, excluding funerals, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put the UK on 'lockdown' on Monday.

Bishop Noel Treanor, in an announcement on Wednesday, said the Diocese of Down and Connor would no longer hold funeral services inside churches. He announced the closure of all churches until further notice.

He said some had appealed to him to reopen churches and he understood "their pain" over the move.

"The sole aim of these measures is to save lives and to enable us all to protect each other," he said in a video address.

He said the deceased will be taken directly to the cemetery for burial where a short funeral prayer service will be held - with social distancing - by the graveside and requiem mass held at some date in the future with gatherings were permitted again.

He said they would honor any existing arrangements already in place.

The Catholic Church in Ireland said the matter was for each diocesan to make.

On Thursday afternoon each diocese was issued with a set of directives advising baptisms and weddings should be kept to a minimum.

They were also told:

  • There will be no wakes in the house.
  • Priests not required to lead prayers in home of the deceased. Instead the family can pray the Rosary and can be given other prayers to say in the home.
  • There will be no sympathising or physical contact with the bereaved at any stage.
  • There will be no Removal to the Church on the evening before the burial
  • All funerals will be private, with just the immediate family being present and no more than 20 people, well-spaced apart, in the church for the funeral Mass.
  • Funeral Mass to be simple, with none of the normal participation of the laity in the liturgy. If Holy Communion is distributed at the Funeral Mass it must be done in a safe manner.
  • At the grave-side it is important that the social distancing rule is adhered to.
  • Arrangements can be made to have the equivalent of a Month’s Memory Mass for the deceased person to take place when restrictions are lifted, so that the family and community can then gather to pray for the deceased and pay their respects to them.

Priests were told: “These regulations mean that the grieving family do not have the normal comfort and support of friends and neighbours to carry them through the difficult days of the death and burial of a loved ones.

“Because of this our priestly pastoral role takes on a new significance and we must be extra sensitive in the way we relate to the bereaved family.”

The Methodist Church said its funerals will be restricted to just small graveside gatherings.

The Presbyterian Church has already discouraged public announcements on funerals to prevent crowds gathering and advised against holding services in homes. Funeral services, if held in churches should follow social distancing rules and be limited to 10 people plus one officiant. Anyone self isolating was urged not to attend any service.

A spokesman said: “The loss of a loved one, even in normal circumstances, is heart breaking, with the pain of such loss eased only with the passing of time, helped by the support of loved ones and the pastoral and prayerful support of the local church family as we journey through the grieving process.

"Today, unfortunately, much has changed and we need to do things differently, while continuing to maintain that sense of deep respect for the deceased and love and care for those who mourn.

“While it is only natural that we feel a sense of unease and anxiety, even with such loss, we put our trust in God who can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. As we read in Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10.)”

The Church of Ireland said advice to clergy was for steps to be taken to ensure that numbers attending funeral services are kept as low as possible, and that consideration should be given to all funerals being private with no public announcement of the funeral arrangements.

"Formal government restrictions should be strictly adhered to in all situations, including funerals," a spokesman said.

"This advice is under constant review and will continue to follow public health guidance provided by state authorities.

"Clergy are well aware of the pastoral difficulties that this will involve and will do all that they can to help families in the grieving process."

In his address Bishop Noel Treanor said that while he recognised the upset this would cause families of those bereaved, it was "simply too risky to gather inside buildings even in small numbers".

"We must proactively exercise extreme care for ourselves and others. To do otherwise would be unchristian."

He ended his message praising those on the front line of health care and all who worked in the health system.

"We salute their heroism, their courage and their dedication."

Belfast Telegraph