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Statement from Bishop Noel TreanorDiocese of Down and ConnorThursday 4th June 2020On the 25th March 2020, I issued a pastoral letter outlining measures to be taken in response to Covid-19. These measures, which included the closing of churches, restricted the celebration of funerals and limited the pastoral services of the diocese, have been acutely experienced by all.The aim of those measures was to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, to save lives and to enable us all to protect each other.Reintroduction of Funeral services and Requiem MassesThere is no doubt that the greatest cross has been carried by those who have lost loved ones over these past few months as they have been unable to observe the rites and rituals associated with mourning that are so much part of our faith and culture. Conscious of the huge sacrifice many families have experienced and heroically made since the introduction of restrictions, we continue to hold them and their deceased loved ones in prayer.On 28th March, the NI Executive enacted legislation which introduced restrictions on individuals’ daily lives and on the pastoral activities of all church bodies. Exceptional provision was made in legislation for the celebration of funerals within churches with no more than ten persons present.Having consulted widely, it was decided that the most prudent practice for the safety of all was to maintain the restrictions already placed upon the celebration of funerals within this Diocese. I resolved at the time to reintroduce the practice of Funeral services and Requiem Masses within churches when it could be deemed appropriate to do so.Now, with the gradual and welcome decline in the number of Covid-19 related deaths, reduced levels of viral transmission within the community, having consulted widely with diocesan clergy and with the appropriate sanitary measures provided for within our churches, I have determined that it is the appropriate time to reintroduce the practice of Funeral services and Requiem Masses across the Diocese of Down and Connor.With immediate effect, Funeral services or Requiem Masses will now be resumed across the Diocese of Down and Connor, while observing the limits on the numbers attending to 10 mourners and observing social distancing regulations.In reintroducing Funeral services and Requiem Masses across the diocese, it is also necessary to safeguard the health and wellbeing of clergy, especially those who are shielding and those who need to self-isolate. This might require that the Funeral service or Requiem Mass to be celebrated within a neighbouring parish other than that of the deceased.I pray that, in the near future, the time will come when we will be able to honour and pray for all who have died and were laid to rest without the full participation of those who have shouldered the pain of grief and loss in such unprecedented circumstances.Provision for Church Wedding CeremoniesFrom Monday 8th June, the NI Executive has further extended the exceptional provisions for marriage to include outdoor venues with small numbers and with social distancing measures in place.Numerous couples, who had been planning their weddings, have had to postpone the celebration of their Marriage, unable to gather and commit their lives together in the presence of families, friends and the Church community.The Diocese of Down and Connor has considered how it may facilitate the Sacrament of Marriage within the current legislative framework and in accordance with sacramental practice and Church norms. The diocese will circulate guidance and directives to parishes.Exercising Personal and Community Responsibility The tentative steps taken recently on the pathway to recovery have been achieved by the sacrifice of all in the common pursuit of health and safety. With a strong sense of duty, community responsibility and, above all, care for each other, many people have exercised personal responsibility in willingly limiting their freedom to protect their families, themselves and wider society. In protecting those around us, we protect ourselves and those we love.For the continuing good of all we must continue to remain clear sighted and vigilant to the real and present threat of the coronavirus.In the interests of public safety, may we all continue to follow the public health advice and guidance and maintain social distancing at all times. The responsible exercise of our personal freedom in the choices we make in the weeks and months ahead is vital for our own health and for the health of our families, neighbours and friends.We continue to pray for those in positions of leadership that they may be inspired in making mature, measured and discerning decisions as they try to balance a desire to returnto a new normality whilst maintaining and ensuring a capacity to respond to the current pandemic which remains a threat, especially to the most vulnerable within the community.+Noel TreanorBishop of Down and Connor
Diocese of Down and ConnorUpdated Guidance on the Celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage4th June 2020Weddings in Exceptional CircumstancesFrom 15th May NI Executive permitted the solemnisation of Marriages where one of the partners or an immediate family member is terminally ill1Such weddings may take place inside the church and are subject to the restriction of a maximum of 10 persons (including the couple and the celebrant.) and with social distancing observed.The normal canonical requirements for marriage are not affected by the relaxation of restrictions but, in the circumstances, should be no more than necessary.2Outdoor weddingsOn 4th June 2020 the NI Executive confirmed that from 8th June 2020 outdoor weddings, including religious weddings, may take place with no more than 10 people present and with social distancing observed.The following norms and guidance will apply for any such wedding celebrated in the Diocese of Down and Connor:1.Permission to celebrate marriages, in accordance with canonical and liturgical norms using the Rite of Marriage only (i.e. excluding the celebration of a Nuptial Mass and/or distribution of Holy Communion) in another suitable place other than a parish church, in accordance with can 11183 is granted.1https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-regulations-and-what-they-mean-you2Cans 1108 §1 & 11193Can. 1118 §1. A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church. It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor.§2. The local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place.§3. A marriage between a Catholic party and a non-baptized party can be celebrated in a church or in another suitable place.2.Each Parish should identify such a suitable place outdoors where it would offer such ceremonies to be celebrated. In the absence of an appropriate outdoor space around the parish church, an alternative at another local parish could be identified. The outdoor space should always be ‘sacred ground’ – i.e. the grounds of a church or other local religious site.3.By way of exception, where circumstances require it and / or where ecumenical relationships permit, and especially in the case of inter-church marriages, the grounds of a neighbouring Christian church or other place endorsed by that church authority for outdoor weddings will be acceptable.4.Parishes should not be expected to provide canopies or gazebos or other forms of shelter. The erection of marquees would not be in the spirit of the regulation. The above, extraordinary permission to deviate from the norm of marriages taking place in a church, will expire when marriages can again be celebrated inside.5.This will happen in accordance with the steps outlined in the NI Executive’s Coronavirus Recovery Strategy, “Pathway to recovery”4 and /or otherwise determined by amendment of the NI Public Health Regulations (2020).6.Any additional dispensation or relaxation to the above should be referred to the Chancellor. 7.These Guidelines will be reviewed as and when necessary.+ Noel TreanorBishop of Down and Connor 4th June 20204 https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/news/executive-publishes-coronavirus-recovery-strategy
Diocese of Down and ConnorUpdated guidelines on the celebration of Funerals services, Requiem Massand distribution of Holy Communion4th June 2020Funerals services, Requiem Mass and distribution of Holy CommunionOn 28th March 2020 the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations, Northern Ireland 2020 came into effect.The regulations and legislation enacted by the NI Executive introduced restrictions on individuals’ daily lives and on the pastoral activities of all church bodies.By way of exception to the restrictions on worship, provision was made for funerals in church, with no more than ten people in attendance, while observing social distancing regulations.In the Diocese of Down and Connor a decision was made on 25th March to restrict funerals to the Committal service at the graveside with the possibility of the celebration of a Requiem Mass in the parish, either immediately before the Committal or at some other suitable time, without the presence of the deceased and mourners.This difficult decision was taken, and explained by me, for the benefit of all, in the face of evidence that the Covid-19 Coronavirus could decimate clusters of the population, especially in urban areas.Since the introduction of restrictions, given;•the gradual and welcome decline in the number of Covid-19 related deaths, the decrease in the “R” number (the measure of virus transition), •the incremental relaxation of restrictions by the NI Executive on 15th, 19th May and 4th June1•having sought the views of clergy in a diocesan survey2 and •having consulted with the Council of Priests3, 1(a) 15th May: Marriage in church of those a partner or an immediate member of a family is terminally ill, and(b) 19th May: allowing private individual prayer in a church (c) 4th June: permitting outdoor weddings 2 14th May 2020 Survey Results 3 1st June 20201.Funeral Services and Requiem Mass in the presence of the deceased and 10 mourners, whilst observing social distancing regulations, is now permitted across the diocese.2.Distribution of Holy Communion during a Requiem Mass Distribution of Holy Communion during a Requiem Mass should be managed with the utmost attention to hygiene and minimal contact. The celebrant should consider the following;•consecration of hosts sufficient for the occasion to minimise contact with other hard surfaces e.g. the tabernacle, • sanitising of priest’s hands before and after (and if necessaryduring) distribution of Holy Communion with alcohol-based hand gel or washing hands with soap and warm water,•communicants observe social distancing when coming forward to receive Holy Communion•maintaining maximum physical distance between communicant and priest,•the priest wears a suitable face covering for the purpose of distribution,•offering Holy Communion solely in the hand (those who would otherwise receive on the tongue are asked to make spiritual communion).Conscious of the huge sacrifice many families have experienced and heroically made since the introduction of restrictions, we continue to hold them and their deceased loved ones in our prayers.I pray that, in the near future, the time will come when we will be able to honour and pray for all who have died and who have been laid to rest without the full participation of those who have shouldered the pain of grief and loss in such unprecedented circumstances.This provision has immediate effect.+ Noel Treanor Bishop of Down and Connor 4th June 2020