Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Day parade to be held March 17 has been cancelled over fears of the spread of coronavirus, but Ireland’s Bishops are urging their fellow citizens to keep their spirits up and to “care for one another” during the outbreak, as some begin to cancel the celebration of public Masses.

– Government advises against indoor gatherings of more than 100 people; outdoor gatherings of more than 500

News of the scrapping of the parade in the capital on the feast day of the country’s patron saint came March 9, when a government COVID-19 taskforce made the decision to cancel the event following advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

500,000 people along with marching bands from all over the world had been expected to gather for the festivities celebrating Christianity’s arrival in Ireland in 432.

As of March 12, there were seventy confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Republic of Ireland, along with one death.

In response to the virus outbreak, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced that indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 500 should be cancelled, in measures effective from this Thursday until at least March 29.

– Bishops urge prayer “for those at the frontlines”: healthcare workers, carers, clergy

In response to the government’s coronavirus directives Thursday, the Irish Bishops complemented a series of instructions to priests and parishes given the day before and cancelled outright March 12 “all non-essential pastoral gatherings and meetings, such as formation gatherings, retreats and seminars”.

Likewise, the Irish Bishops yesterday postponed all Confirmations “until further notice” and also limited the celebration of funerals, weddings and baptisms to a maximum of 100 people.

“In these difficult and uncertain times, people find strength, consolation and hope in prayer”, the Bishops explained, adding that, for that reason, “churches should remain open for prayer each day”.

“In the current emergency situation, all are dispensed from the obligation to physically attend Sunday Mass”, the Irish prelates continued.

They said that even though “it may be possible for some parishes to facilitate attendance at Mass while still observing the health authority’s limit of 100 people”, the faithful should nonetheless be encouraged to follow services on the radio or online.

“This is an occasion for all of us – especially in families – to pray more intensely for each other and especially for those who have succumbed to the illness”, the Irish Bishops urged.

“We should pray also for those at the frontlines – especially doctors, nurses and medical staff and other carers, including clergy – that the Lord will protect them as they place their own wellbeing at risk in the service of all”.

– Remind Catholics of “responsibility to care for those who are most at risk”

In their advice March 12, the Irish Bishops warned that it is likely that the new restrictions on the public celebration of the Sacraments “will continue for some time”.

“Instructions regarding the celebration of Holy Week will be issued in due course”, the prelates promised.

“The motivation for these new restrictive measures is a sense of care for the common good and especially for those most vulnerable”, the Bishops explained.

“Each Christian community should be acutely aware of the responsibility to care for those who are most at risk. For example, even where it may not be appropriate to visit the elderly, a simple telephone call to enquire about their needs could mean so much to them”.

– Dublin archbishop: “Solidarity is going to be a huge thing”

While the restrictions are in place, however – and despite the symbolic blow of the cancellation of the St. Patrick’s Day parade – Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin is simply insisting that people “look after each other and pray”.

“We respect the information and instructions that are coming from the authorities”, Martin said March 12 on RTÉ radio, adding that Catholics have a responsibility not just for their own faith but also for the health of others.

For the duration of the coronavirus crisis, “solidarity is going to be a huge thing”, Martin warned.

– Update 13/3/20 19:31 CET: Public Masses cancelled in dioceses of Cashel and Emly, Raphoe, Waterford and Lismore

Public Masses have this afternoon been cancelled in the dioceses of Cashel and Emly, Raphoe and Waterford and Lismore.

Despite the cancellations in his diocese – in effect until and including Sunday March 29 – Cashel and Emly Archbishop Kieran O’Reilly said that nonetheless “parishioners are encouraged to visit their local church for prayer, and also to pray at home: praying for the sick, for those who are caring for the sick and for all who are working so hard to protect us”.

Communicating his own decision to ban for the moment the public celebration of the Eucharist, Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian added that: “Dealing with the coronavirus threat is a source of worry for all of us.

“It is a moment for us to be in prayerful solidarity with each other. It is, in fact, a time when prayer and our reliance on God is more important than ever.  We remember that the Lord will never abandon his people”.

For his part, Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore explained that “mindful of the need to care for the body as well as the soul, Masses throughout the diocese will not be cancelled but will take place without the congregation physically present, therefore no public Masses”.

“I wish to draw a distinction between spiritual health and physical health”, Cullinan added.

“By congregating large numbers of people in a church there may well be a threat of infection and harm to physical health.

“Your local priest will celebrate daily Mass offering it up for your intentions and indeed for the whole country”.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.