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VATICAN CITY, March 20, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has found it necessary to remind the world that the Catholic Church’s celebration of Easter cannot be moved to a different date on account of the coronavirus lockdown.
In a letter released today, Sarah said that he had received a number of questions about Easter because of the coronavirus pandemic. He reminded readers that Easter is “the heart of the entire liturgical year and is not simply one feast among others.”
“The Easter Triduum is celebrated over an arc of three days which is preceded by Lent and crowned by Pentecost and, therefore, cannot be transferred to another time,” he stated
The annual Chrism Mass, usually celebrated on the Tuesday of Holy Week, may, however, be postponed by bishops to a later date. Expressions of popular piety and processions common to Holy Week and the Easter Triduum may also take place later in the year, depending on the judgement of local ordinaries. The cardinal suggested September 14 and 15.
Sarah stated that wherever civil and ecclesiastical authorities had placed restrictions on public assembly because of the coronavirus, the celebration of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter would go ahead in churches and Cathedrals without the physical presence of the lay faithful.
“The faithful should be informed of the times of the celebration so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes,” he continued.
“In this occasion, the means of live (not recorded) televisual or internet broadcasts are helpful.”
Some parts of the usual ceremonies will be eliminated. For example, there will be no washing of feet, “which is already optional”, during the Holy Thursday liturgies. The customary procession from the altar to the place of repose will also be omitted, and the Blessed Sacrament will be kept in the tabernacle.
Easter Vigil Mass will be celebrated only in cathedral and parish churches where it can be done. The preparation and lighting of the paschal fire will be omitted, as will the usual subsequent procession. The Baptismal Liturgy will contain only the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises,” suggesting that there will be no baptisms or confirmations in the affected areas.
“Decisions regarding monasteries, seminaries and religious communities shall be made by the Diocesan Bishop,” Sarah directed.
The cardinal confirmed that this was by the mandate of Pope Francis, for 2020 only.
For the first time in the history of the Church, many bishops around the world have voluntarily suspended public Masses for an indefinite time period, as a way of slowing or stopping the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Priests have been encouraged to continue saying Masses, and the lay people have been advised to join them in prayer, particularly by participating in live-streamed Masses from home.