THE leaders of the main Churches in Ireland have pledged to maintain pastoral care of the bereaved, and to carry out appropriate liturgies when normality returns.
In a joint statement, they acknowledged the pressure that multiple deaths place on the relevant authorities, and that the customary burial or cremation, which normally takes place within three days of death in Ireland, may not be possible.
“As church leaders, we give assurances that appropriate prayerful pastoral support will be offered to all facing bereavement as they undertake what is always a painful journey. We also commit to perform funeral liturgies and services as soon as legally and practically possible, working with funeral directors and others as appropriate,” the statement says.
“As Christians, we believe that every aspect of what makes us human is important to God; so physical bodies are precious. However, at this time we also emphasise, as a means of reassurance, the Christian understanding and belief that, after death, the spirit lives on. That does not, in any way, diminish the necessity for a respectful Christian burial or cremation for the physical body of a loved one after their death.
“As Churches, we will support bereaved families through the inevitable challenges that will arise in the coming days. Our thoughts and prayers at this time are with all who are having to make these most difficult decisions, and with those involved in offering funeral, support and bereavement services.”
The statement was signed by the President of the Irish Council of Churches, the Revd Brian Anderson; the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Rt Revd Dr William Henry; the Church of Ireland Archbishop-elect of Armagh, the Rt Revd John McDowell; the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of Dromore diocese and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Eamon Martin; and the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Sam McGuffin.
Anglican and Roman Catholic services are being broadcast around the country on television, and individual parishes are using webcams and other technologies to provide worship services.
Funerals are restricted to immediate families and close friends; typically, death notices in the national press state that “Due to the present circumstances, funerals will be private.”
All Anglican churches are closed except for funerals, and a spokeswoman for the RC Church said that the alternative — broadcast masses — were being watched by thousands.
On Sunday, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, celebrated the eucharist via webcam from Christ Church Cathedral.
Ireland was one of the first countries to close bars, schools, and other public venues, and to urge stay-at-home practices. The government is working closely with the Northern Ireland Assembly to harmonise as far as possible the same practices across the whole island.