UPDATE 21 January 2021.

On 21 January 2021, the Northern Ireland Executive took the unanimous decision to extend the current Covid-19 restrictions until Friday 5th March 2021.

In the light of this decision, and on the basis of the clear and unequivocal public health advice that people should continue to stay at home, the Northern Catholic Bishops have decided that, until 5 March (but subject to ongoing review in line with any change to the public health advice), the celebration of the Eucharist and other liturgies should continue to take place without the physical presence of the faithful.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW: Statement by the Northern Catholic Bishops on the extension of the Covid-19 shut-down by the Northern Ireland Executive to 5 March 2021

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) guidance for parishes

UPDATE 08 January 2021

Mass and other Liturgies
(apart from those specified below) should take place without the physical presence of the faithful.  However, those who would normally exercise ministries / functions necessary for the celebration – for example, Readers, Cantor, Organist, sacristan may be present.  Social distancing should be maintained at all times, an appropriate cleaning regime should be in place (especially for items which are touched), and masks should be worn except when carrying out a function renders this impossible (such as proclaiming a Reading).

Baptisms are limited to attendance by the immediate family.  By ‘immediate family’ we mean the parents, godparents and siblings of a minor who is being baptised.  If an adult is being baptised or received into the church, this may be attended by a spouse, their children and godparents. Where it is unavoidable that there are multiple Baptisms at the one time, the total of people present in the church, including clergy etc, should not exceed 25, the family groups should not mix inside or outside the church and should be four metres apart from each other. 

Marriages are limited to 25 people. This number includes children under 12 and the celebrant.  A risk assessment for over 15 people is required.  Face masks must be worn by all other than those party to the marriage.  Receptions or post ceremony gatherings are not permitted.  These requirements arise from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Funerals are limited to 25 people.  Pre- and post-funeral gatherings are not permitted.  Wakes are not to be held and Funeral Services in private homes are not to take place.  Existing restrictions on households apply.  A person responsible for organising or operating a funeral or associated event elsewhere must comply with guidance on managing funerals and associated gatherings issued by the Department of Health. Any mourner displaying symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend a funeral, as they pose a risk to others.

Drive-in Services may take place, where appropriate, in accordance with current government regulations and guidance.

Churches are open for private prayer, in accordance with government regulations and guidance. In particular, a cleaning schedule should be maintained and face masks are required. 

Covid-19 and Physical (Social) Distancing

Coronavirus - Covid-19 - How it spreads

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person breathes, sneezes, coughs, or talks. These droplets can land on people or be breathed in by those close by.

Help reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19

To reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19, public health advice emphasises the importance of strict adherence to physical distancing, good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and regular cleaning and sanitising of shared spaces.

Hand Washing and Sanitiser

Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub, which contains at least 60% alcohol, kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Video | How to wash your hands

Physical (Social) Distancing

Public health authorities advise that people should maintain physical distance from each other (currently at least 2 metres). In your church this will mean that the maximum number of people who can be accommodated for any communal prayer or liturgy will be much reduced.

The demands of physical (social) distancing will also need to be considered in relation to people entering the church and leaving it.

In calculating the number of people who can be accommodated in your church while maintaining the physical (social) distance of 2 metres, please remember that the 2 metre distance does not apply to a household, which can sit together.

Indicating Physical Distance

In considering physical (social) distancing, consider markings on the floor for those coming to Holy Communion and markings on the ground outside the church, for those queuing to enter.

Supervision and guidance by stewards outside and within the church building to maintain physical distancing would be helpful.

It is most important that people who are vulnerable or unwell, and especially those with any symptoms that might suggest Covid-19 infection, should stay at home and, if possible, participate, via webcam, social media, television, or radio.

Liturgical Considerations

These liturgial considerations should be read in conjunction with the 'Framework document for a return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments' from the Irish Episcopal Conference. Click to [download here].

Sunday and Holy Day obligation

As outlined the 'Framework document for a return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments' from the Irish Bishop's, the dispensation from the Sunday and Holy Day obligation is extended for the time being.

Holy Communion

All handling of the communion host should be considered as a potential source of transmission, therefore careful attention to hand hygiene is essential.

Priests/Ministers of Holy Communion should visibly sanitise their hands both before and after the distribution of Communion.

Priests/Ministers of Holy Communion should wear a face-covering while distributing Communion.

Holy Communion should be received in the hand. The reason for this is not simply an issue of the risk of touch, but exposure to breathed moisture where a person receives on the tongue.  

Unfortunately, the reception of Holy Communion on the tongue would expose the priest/Minister of Holy Communion’s hand to moisture every time, with the risk of passing virus contained in the moisture on to others.

Where a priest/Minister of Holy Communion inadvertently touches a communicant’s hand, hands should be sanitised again.

Ministers of Holy Communion

Ministers of Holy Communion should be trained in how to correctly put on and remove a face-covering, sanitise their hands and where to stand to distribute Holy Communion in a way that minimises risk to themselves and others.


At the celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, the celebrant will sign the child with the Cross without touching.

The anointing with the Holy Oils will be administered by the use of cotton buds.

Readers at Mass

Readers should ensure that they know where they are to sit and from where they are to proclaim the Reading. If the priest is to proclaim the Gospel from the ambo, consider a separate lectern for the reader to ensure that two people don’t use the ambo in the celebration of a Mass.

After each Mass, the ambo and lectern should be wiped clean.

Singers and Choirs

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person breathes, sneezes, coughs, or talks. These droplets can land on people or be breathed in by those close by. The more forcefully a person breathes, the greater the distance that this moisture is projected.  In singing, this is especially the case.  Therefore, choirs should not be used for the moment. 

A cantor, well distanced from other people, is the most appropriate singer currently as, unlike a choir, greater distance from others can be maintained.

Allocation of seats - GDPR considerations

If your parish is considering introducing a seat allocation system to manage numbers attending each Mass due to capacity constraints, please ensure the information gathered complies with GDPR.

GDPR states that personal data is 'collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and not further processed in a manner that is incompatible with those purposes;' It should be stated why personal information is being collected and when it is going to be deleted.

Consider including the following on the form asking for personal data:

[PARISH NAME] GDPR: I understand and consent to having my data included in the Parish database for the purpose of allocating seats at each Mass due the current physical distancing restrictions. I understand the parish will delete my details once the allocation system is no longer required.

Include a tick box on the form that the person can tick to confirm they give consent and they understand how you are using their data. 'Consent means offering individuals real choice and control. Genuine consent should put individuals in charge, build trust and engagement, and enhance your reputation'. Source: ICO
For additional guidance on Liturgial considerations please refer to the 'Framework document for a return to the public celebration of Mass and the Sacraments' from the Irish Episcopal Conference. Click to [download here].

It is most important that people who are vulnerable or unwell, and especially those with any symptoms that might suggest Covid-19 infection, should stay at home and, if possible, participate, via webcam, social media, television, or radio.

Hygiene Guidance


A church building is a non clinical environment. In such an environment, government guidance is against using type IIR standard face masks. Priests/Ministers of Holy Communion should wear a washable or disposable face-covering while distributing Communion.

Update 16 October 2020: it is mandatory in Northern Ireland to wear face-coverings when entering or leaving a church building.

Following recent consultations with public health authorities, the leaders of the four main churches in Ireland decided to recommend and encourage the use of face-coverings at Masses and other liturgical celebrations, from Sunday 30th August 2020. It is important to remember that some people are exempted from the wearing of face-coverings, even in situations which would otherwise be mandatory, as outlined in the two jurisdictions: NIDirect face-coverings advice and Gov.ie face-coverings advice.

Using a Face-covering

A cloth face-covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably.

Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before putting it on and after taking it off. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times.

Do not touch the front of the face-covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose. Once removed, make sure you clean any surfaces the face-covering has touched.

If you are using a reusable face-covering you should wash it regularly, at a minimum temperature of 60C. It can go in with other laundry, using your normal detergent. Where a reusable face-covering is used, it should be used by the original wearer only. Sources: HSE and gov.uk

Video | How to safely fit and wear a face-covering

Hand Sanitiser

Ensure sufficient hand sanitisers are provided at all entrances and exits. Alcohol-based hand rub, should contain at least 60% ethanol.

Public Health England has advised that hand sanitisers should have 60% or higher alcohol content to be effective against the COVID-19 virus.


Cleaning an area with normal household disinfectant after someone with suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.

Wear disposable or washing-up gloves and aprons for cleaning. These should be double-bagged, then stored securely for 72 hours then thrown away in the regular rubbish after cleaning is finished. Source: Gov.uk COVID-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings

Using a disposable cloth, first clean hard surfaces with warm soapy water. Then disinfect these surfaces with the cleaning products you normally use. Pay particular attention to frequently touched areas and surfaces, such as toilets, pews, grab-rails in corridors and stairwells, door handles, statues and candelabras.

Wash hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, and after removing gloves, aprons and other protection used while cleaning.

Bleach need only be used in toilets. The dilution of bleach should be in accordance with public health guidelines.

It is not necessary to clean floors after each gathering.

Cloth hand towels should be replaced with disposable paper towels in toilet areas.

Help and Guidance

If you need any help or guidance on reopening your parish church in the Diocese of Derry, please contact the diocesan office:

Telephone: 028 7126 2302 or 00 44 (0)28 7126 2302

Opening times:
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm

Further guidance