Bishops have asked that church bells would be rung at 9.00am on Sunday 12 December in prayerful hope for all during this Season of Advent. Sunday 12 December has been chosen as it is the Third Sunday of Advent which is Gaudete (Rejoicing) Sunday.

The bishops extended the invitation following their Winter General Meeting which concluded online on Wednesday 1 December. At their meeting the bishops also reflected on the past year and looked ahead to Christmas. They said, “Bishops said, “As Christmas approaches, we keep especially in our thoughts those who have been bereaved in the past year, and we pray for the gifts of healing and hope for all.  We have now begun our Advent journey, a time of patient waiting and joyful hope. We look forward to the celebration of Christmas with quiet expectation and turn our hearts to the Lord with confidence and trust.

“Although the Covid-19 pandemic continues, there are many reasons to be both thankful and hopeful.  We are grateful to all who have worked tirelessly to protect our health and have cared for those who have fallen ill.  We welcome and encourage the ongoing programme of vaccination.  It has provided greater protection for people’s health, especially that of the most vulnerable. It has also helped to ease the restrictions placed on the social and religious life of our communities and to keep hospital beds free for other essential and urgent medical needs.

“We are thankful too for the continuing commitment of so many in our parishes to ensuring that our churches remain safe places where people can gather in confidence to worship.  It is important that we remain vigilant, conscious of the threat still posed by the virus and any new variants which may emerge, and continue to take the steps we know will protect our own health and the health of others.  Face-coverings should continue to be worn at all gatherings in our churches and parish buildings.  High standards of hygiene and ventilation in our churches, and allowing space between ourselves and others, are essential ways in which we can contribute to the health of our parish communities.  Around Christmas time, when people come to churches in larger numbers, careful planning will be needed in our parishes and sensible precautions should be put in place, in line with public health guidance.

“The coming of Christ that we celebrate at Christmas brought light into a darkened world, ‘a light that darkness could not overpower’.  In the dark days of the pandemic, we can be bearers of that light, bringing it into the lives of those who may be living in the shadow of sickness, poverty, homelessness or isolation.  We best express our thankfulness through personal thoughtfulness and kindness, and support given to organisations which do so much to help those in need.  We urge people to respond generously to the Christmas appeals of Trócaire, Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, Crosscare and other charities which bring hope into the lives of many people.”

In accordance with public health guidance to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, members of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference gathered remotely for their Winter 2021 General Meeting via video-link, instead of the usual location at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Although the Autumn 2021 General Meeting was held in-person, this week’s meeting was the bishops’ sixth plenary meeting to be held in this way.

ENDS