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Latest Guidelines for Celebration of Mass etc

19th March 2021

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Most Rev Eamon Martin DD
Apostolic Administrator
Bishop's House
44 Armagh Road
Newry BT35 6PN
Co. Down

Tel:  (028) 3026 2444


Guidance for the Celebration of Mass and the Sacraments

Following engagement with the Executive Office and Department of Health officials, the Northern Bishops have indicated that the celebration of Mass and the Sacraments, with the physical presence of a congregation, may resume from 26 March 2021.

Given the continuing presence and transmission of coronavirus in the community return to 'normal practice' at this time remains impossible. The Diocese and parishes continue to have a serious obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all people.

Parishes are required to REVIEW AND REFRESH the Risk Assessment and Checklist (copies attached) before recommencing the public liturgies. You should also carefully retain other documentation such as cleaning schedules etc. as indicated in the Risk Assessment.

The obligation to attend Mass on Sunday and Holy Days remains suspended. Parishioners who can, should be encouraged to attend on other days, and at this time, be discouraged from attending Mass more than once a week to allow for others to attend. There should be no increase in the number of scheduled Masses, particularly on a Sunday.

A social distancing measure of 2 metres should continue to be observed for the time being. The capacity of the Church should be calculated on this basis and noted as required in the Risk Assessment. Members of the same household/bubble are permitted to sit together without the need to observe 2 metre distancing.

Where toilet facilities are provided, these must be regularly cleaned and appropriately restocked with handwash, disposable towels etc. Signage should be put in place recommending that 5 minutes be left between use.

Doors and windows should be left open and mechanical ventilation systems (where available) operated, before, during and after celebrations to improve ventilation.

ALL persons, including clergy and parish staff/volunteers (except those medically exempt) must wear face coverings while inside the Church. The Celebrant/reader etc may remove their face covering when necessary but should remain 2 metres from others.

We continue to recommend that 1 cantor and 1 musician is the best option for liturgical music and that congregational singing should be discouraged for the time being. Informal gatherings outside the church, before or after celebrations should be discouraged.


a) There is no regulation limiting the number of persons who may attend a baptism ceremony. The total number of persons present should not exceed the safe capacity of the Church as determined in your risk assessment.

b) Where possible, only one child should be baptised per ceremony, if multiple children, from different families are to be baptised at the same ceremony, household groups/bubbles must be seated separately and should not mingle inside the church.

c) Make the Sign of the Cross over the child's head without touching. Use a cotton bud to administer the holy oils. A fresh jug of water should be used for each child to be baptised (water should not be reused from the font.)

Sacrament of Reconciliation

a) Provision should be made for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, either at advertised times or by request.

b) A suitable space, either in the body of the Church or in a well-ventilated room should be identified as a confessional area, having due regard to the need for privacy.

c) Both priest and penitent should wear a face covering during the celebration of the sacrament.

Sacrament of Marriage

a) Public health regulations limit the number attending a marriage ceremony to 25 persons (this includes children under 12 and the officiant) If a nuptial Mass is to be celebrated, all the usual mitigations relating to Mass are to be observed. The bride and groom are exempted from the obligation to wear a face covering while inside the Church.


a) Public Health Regulations limit the number attending a funeral service to 25 persons.

b) Funeral directors have been provided with detailed guidance regarding the conduct of funerals and priests/deacons should familiarise themselves with this guidance. The up-todate version can be found at:


Funeral directors can also advise of the current arrangements in place in cemeteries and at the crematorium.

c) Wakes and post funeral gatherings remain limited. Up-to-date guidance can be found at: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-regulations-guidance-whatrestrictions-mean-you

Sacrament of the Sick

a) When making an urgent sick-call to a private house, priests should request that only the sick person and those necessary for the sick person's care be present during the visit. Others should be asked to wait outside/in another room during the visit.

b) The priest and others present (including the sick person, if it is comfortable and appropriate for them to do so) should were a face covering for the duration of the visit.

c) The priest should carefully sanitise his hands before and after the visit.

d) The 'laying on of hands' should be performed by extending the hand towards the sick person without touch.

e) The anointing with oil should be carried out using a cotton bud which should be safely and reverently disposed of after use.

f) Visits should be brief, and the priest should spend no more than 10 minutes with the sick person.

g) Priests should continue to presume for the time being that there is a risk of Covid transmission in such settings and act accordingly.

The Celebration of Mass

a) The entrance and recessional procession should be simple and dignified and only include those who are required to be in the sanctuary for the duration of the celebration (i.e., priest and deacon).

b) Concelebration is to be avoided, but where considered necessary, concelebrants should maintain social distancing from each other (unless they are from the same household) and should receive Holy Communion from an individual paten and chalice.

c) Priests, deacons and other liturgical ministers should wear a face covering, except when at the Altar/Ambo or leading prayer from the chair etc.

d) Homilies and the Prayer of the faithful should be kept appropriately brief for the time being.

e) The celebrant should sanitise his hands at the start of the offertory.

f) There should be no offertory procession or collection. Arrangements for the safe collection of offerings (in the porch etc.) should remain in place.

g) There is to be no sign of peace.

h) For the distribution of Holy Communion, priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers must all wear face coverings. After putting on their face covering, they must sanitize their hands before distributing Holy Communion to anyone.

i) At the conclusion of Holy Communion, the ministers should sanitise their hands before removing their face coverings.

j) Care should be taken to carefully clean the sacred vessels and change the linens after each Mass.




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