Coronavirus: No more funerals inside churches in Down and Connor diocese
FUNERALS in the Down and Connor diocese will no longer be held inside churches during the coronavirus crisis, with the deceased instead taken directly to cemeteries for burial.
A short funeral prayer service will take place at the graveside, but Requiem Mass in memory of the deceased will be postponed until further notice.
Bishop Noel Treanor said he realised the pain this would cause to bereaved families, but added: "It is simply too risk-laden to gather inside buildings even in small numbers."
He said if arrangements have already been made for some funerals, they will still be carried out.
The latest restrictions were announced in a pastoral letter and an online video message from the bishop.
Funerals have already been restricted to immediate family and parishes are advising against holding wakes as part of efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19.
In his letter circulated on Wednesday night, Bishop Treanor said he decided on the latest restrictions "after much thought and prayer".
"As of today, our sisters and brothers in Christ, who die will be taken directly to the cemetery for burial," he said.
"In the cemetery, a short funeral prayer service will take place, respecting the determinations of the public authorities in regard to inter-personal social distancing and any other provisions deemed necessary.
"Requiem Mass will be celebrated in memory of the deceased person at a later date, when this pandemic has passed and when the conditions permitting gatherings of people in buildings and in churches prevail.
"It is, however, necessary to recognise that if arrangements have been made at this point and time for funerals, those arrangements will be honoured and carried through.
"It is simply too risk-laden to gather inside buildings even in small numbers. We must proactively exercise extreme care for each other and for ourselves. To do otherwise would be unchristian.
"I realise the pain this will cause to many, to many families, to many individuals. I ask for your forbearance, for your charity and for your care for others."
The diocese had already issued a raft of changes as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Churches have been closed, although Mass has been celebrated in private and streamed where possible online.
Parishes are contactable by phone or email, but parish offices, parochial properties and parish centres are closed to public access and non-essential staff are working from home.
Funerals have been "restricted to the immediate family" and the diocese has strongly advised against holding wakes.