The Challenge of celebrating Christmas 2020

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

Gathering in church to celebrate The Eucharist is top priority for most Irish people at Christmas.  There are many golden aspects to this wonderful community celebration: parents bring young children; the Christmas carols are uplifting and special and the symbolism is rich as the statue of the baby Jesus is carried through the church and placed in straw in the crib. This Christmas is different. The community will miss the free meeting, greeting, and gathering around the crib and after Mass, which is central to our annual celebration. Even in relation to Christmas hymns we are asked not to have choirs or congregational singing, in place, a cantor and organist is recommended.

There is happiness, that this Christmas we will at least have small congregations and there is sadness, that it will not cater for all that would like to come.  Churches that can seat over 1000, find themselves confined to 100 or 150.  Churches that can take 400, with some standing are reduced to fifty. Parishes will judge by the number of Masses being planned the total number that can be facilitated.

Christmas, even with extra Masses, will fall far short of accommodating 50% of the people. Parishes are considering putting on Christmas Masses on the weekday evenings before Christmas and on St Stephen’s Day, but all will want to be there on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Can those who are present offer Mass on behalf of the rest of their family and the whole parish family? Can people genuinely unite with the Mass from home as the Mass is streamed via the internet? Remember, the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays remains suspended while the corona virus is still with us.

The corona virus is extremely contagious, as we have seen in recent weeks. When a church reaches its capacity, no one else can be let in. How difficult and sad to turn people away on Christmas night! Parishes are unsure what to do. Parishes may opt for a booking system or a ticket system. Remember too, some priests have pre-existing conditions or are of an age where they must not put themselves at risk.

We ask you to be understanding. Thank God, for the good news of the vaccines and that these restrictions are only for one Christmas. If we cannot unite around the altar, let us be united in the Spirit. Remember the first Christmas did not turn out ideal for Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus. Yet, in the Stable at Bethlehem there was warmth, peace, and joy.

Many families and many people advanced in years might content themselves with coming to Mass in the days before Christmas or during the Christmas season. This will provide an opportunity to receive Holy Communion for Christmas.  Many families will put their focus on gong to the parish church at a quiet time and saying their own prayers before the crib. Families joining in the Mass from home through the various channels: church streaming; daily 10.30 Mass on RTE Newsnow; Sunday Mass on a local radio station or RTE, have realised that home can be a perfect place for prayer. Where better than in the home to pause and be aware of God’s presence, and, giving thanks, to renew trust in him? At Mass, priests will pray a special prayer of blessing on cribs in homes across the parish. I invite you to pause daily before the crib and ponder the mystery: Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’.

Parishes are doing their best. This Christmas is unique. We cannot allow people into the church beyond the maximum number. Thanks to ushers and cleaners, the church will be safe for those who enter. Please be understanding. Find out the details concerning your own parish.

Rising above our difficulties let us unite in prayer joyfully honouring the birthday of Jesus Christ the Son of God and, giving thanks for all that is good in how our communities continue to respond to the challenge of the corona virus. Let us count our blessings, there is so much to be grateful for. United in the Holy Spirit, let us pray for one another and for all in our communities.   Be assured you are in my prayers in all the Masses I celebrate over the Christmas.

+ Ray Browne

Diocese of Kerry

8th December 2020.

Feast of the Immaculate Conception.