Coronavirus pandemic forces Vatican to alter Holy Week ceremonies for entire church
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ROME, Italy, March 25, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The Vatican has further specified what will happen in parishes throughout the world during Holy Week this year, given that numerous countries and bishops have banned public Church services due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since “the date of Easter cannot be transferred,” explained Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “in the countries which have been struck by the disease and where restrictions around the assembly and movement of people have been imposed, bishops and priests may celebrate the rites of Holy Week without the presence of the people and in a suitable place, avoiding concelebration and omitting the sign of peace.”
For Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, the decree published today by the Holy See states that the liturgy “is to be celebrated within sacred buildings.” Usually, a procession takes place before Mass, which involves all faithful attending Mass.
The Chrism Mass, which is traditionally celebrated by each diocesan bishop on the morning of Holy Thursday, has already often been moved to another day within Holy Week. It may again be moved this year, according to the decision of national bishops’ conferences.
In a previous decree, published March 19, Cardinal Sarah already indicated that Chrism Mass might even be moved to a date after Easter.
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday will not end with a procession. The Blessed Sacrament, which would otherwise be moved to a different altar, “is to be kept in the tabernacle.”
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments said the ceremonial washing of the feet, “which is already optional, is to be omitted.”
While in regular times, no private Masses are to be said during the Triduum, the last three days preceding Easter, this year “the faculty to celebrate Mass in a suitable place (on Holy Thursday), without the presence of the people, is exceptionally granted to all priests.”
On Good Friday, a part of the liturgy is the universal prayer, where the priest prays explicitly and solemnly for certain predetermined causes, for instance for the whole hierarchy of the Church. This year, “Bishops will arrange to have a special intention prepared for those who find themselves in distress, the sick, the dead.”
The German bishops already published a new prayer.
“Let us also pray for all those who are seriously ill during these weeks; for those who live in fear and care for one another; for those who care for the sick in medicine and nursing; for researchers who are seeking protection and remedies; and for those who have to make decisions and are working for society, but also for the many whom death has ripped out of life,” the first part reads.
“Almighty, eternal God, you are our refuge and strength; many generations have experienced you as powerful, as a helper in all needs; stand by all who are affected by this crisis and strengthen in us the faith that you hold all people in your good hands. But accept the deceased into your kingdom, where they are safe with you,” the second part of the prayer continues.
The decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments points out that the adoration of the Cross by kissing it, also a traditional element of the Good Friday liturgy, “shall be limited solely to the celebrant.”
The Easter Vigil, celebrating Christ’s resurrection, is to be celebrated “only in Cathedral and parish churches.” The baptismal liturgy, a major part of the Easter Vigil, which traditionally features adult baptisms of converts to the faith, is to be shortened to only the renewal of baptismal promises, the decree states.
Expressions of popular piety, for instance the prayer of the Stations of the Cross, will not be possible during Holy Week in many parts of the world. Thus, Cardinal Sarah said they “can be transferred to other suitable days in the year.”
He specifically mentioned September 14, the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and September 15, the feast of the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady. Both days strongly relate to the passion of Christ during Holy Week.
The decree also encouraged the faithful to “prayerfully unite themselves” to the private liturgies from their homes. “Means of live (not recorded) telematic broadcasts can be of help,” Sarah wrote.