Services that live stream sermons from churches across the country are gearing-up for a spike in demand as vulnerable parishioners are advised to avoid mass gatherings - including Mass - during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Tony Bolger, CEO of one of these services called ChurchServices.TV, believes they could provide a "lifeline" to people isolated by the virus.
“Churches are particularly central to parishes in country areas, and they could play a really important role in keeping people informed, inspired and connected even if there’’s a complete lock-down," Mr Bolger said.
“A priest could deliver the service to an empty church, or even if a priest couldn’’t leave their home, our system allows them to record messages and broadcast from their mobile phone. So priests could speak to parishioners directly from their home, give them advice or perform a sermon from their home oratory.
“We fully expect to see an increase in viewers and we’’ve put plans in place to make sure that we can keep the system operational despite the coronavirus outbreak. If we see a further lock-down there could be a real need for the Church to communicate with people electronically," he said.
Last year, the company made 22,500 recordings, many of them funeral masses but also weddings and baptisms, so that people who may not have been able to attend on the day could catch up with the service later online.
ChurchServices.TV currently operates in eight churches in Cork and many more nationwide. This week, it is installing cameras in two more churches in county Cork alone.
“Every day we get unsolicited emails telling us what a difference our service made to them," Mr Bolger said. “I think it provides a lifeline to many people."
“We were the first to live stream from churches in 2005 and we’’ve been developing and expanding our services ever since. We now have Parish TV which goes beyond live streaming Masses but priests can record messages and share information about the parish which could be very useful with the coronavirus," he said.
MCN Media, a company which also live streams church services from parishes around Ireland is also preparing for an increase in demand. A spokesperson for MCN said that the company is installing cameras in more churches every month.
The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has issued advice to both parishioners and priests.
The conference said that sermons, including on St Patrick's Day Mass, would continue but vulnerable people should worship from home instead.
Hand sanitisers are to be provided at each church entrance, Holy water fonts are to remain empty and people should keep a distance between themselves and others and avoid shaking hands.
Priests must sanitise their hands before and after administering Holy Communion which should only be received into the hand and alternatives should be found to passing collection baskets.
Anointing during confirmations, baptisms and when caring for the sick should be done with a cotton bud or surgical gloves, the Conference advised.
- The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here
- Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department - if this is not possible, phone 112 or 999 and in a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999