Holy Week changes aim to make liturgies accessible

Decanters of oil waited to be blessed and consecrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz in a virtually empty Cathedral of the Assumption at the 2020 Chrism Mass early in the COVID-19 lockdown. Just about a dozen people attended the liturgy. This year, as restrictions have loosened, all regions of the archdiocese are expected to be represented. (Record Photo By Marnie McAllister)

As the second Easter under pandemic conditions approaches, special adaptations are being made around the world to make Holy Week liturgies less risky and more accessible.

For instance, communal foot-washings will not be held on Holy Thursday. Adoration of the cross by touching or kissing will be omitted on Good Friday.

“A lot of the unique aspects of these liturgies that would make them a risk will not be there. There’s a sadness to that, but it also makes them low risk,” said Dr. Karen Shadle, director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

By sacrificing these traditions that often involve movement, she said, the liturgies become more accessible to people.

“No public setting is going to be completely risk-free, but these are going to be low-risk liturgies. I think people should be confident going,” Shadle said.

The Vatican had a similar perspective. In sharing guidance with the world’s bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments said in a note, “We are aware that the decisions taken have not always been easy for pastors or the lay faithful to accept. However, we know that they were taken with a view to ensuring that the sacred mysteries be celebrated in the most effective way possible for our communities while respecting the common good and public health.”

Local parishes received “Guidelines for Holy Week Liturgies During the Pandemic” from the Office of Worship last month. It contains the Vatican’s guidelines along with the Archdiocese of Louisville’s local guidance.

The document begins by stating, “The presence of the faithful who are safely able to attend Holy Week liturgies in person is to be strongly encouraged.”

But it also adds that “resources for praying the Liturgy of the Hours and celebrating Holy Week at home should be communicated for others who cannot attend.” The archdiocese is again sharing “Holy Week at Home,” a free 2020 publication from Liturgical Press. 

The Office of Worship’s document goes on to offer guidelines for liturgies beginning with Palm Sunday, as well as some general guidelines for Mass. Several of the guidelines leave options for parishes to make decisions based on their architecture, congregation size and other factors that determine how much the congregation can safely move about.

In addition to continued reduced capacity, distancing and face-mask requirements, here’s what to expect when you attend upcoming liturgies:

Palm Sunday, March 28 — Parishes may distribute palms as parishioners arrive and have a blessing of the palms with the congregation seated. Or parishes may provide blessed palms outside of Mass. Palms also may be available for pickup and/or delivered to the homebound using gloves or a protective sheath.

Chrism Mass, March 30 — Invitations to the 7 p.m. Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption have been extended to all priests and selected members of the diaconate and laity to represent all regions of the archdiocese. It is closed to the general public, but it will be live-streamed at www.cathedraloftheassumption.org.

Holy Thursday, April 1 — The optional washing of feet will be omitted this year as will be the transfer of the Eucharist and procession with the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist will be reserved in the tabernacle following Communion.

Good Friday, April 2 An intention “For an end to the pandemic” will be added to the Solemn Intercessions on Good Friday. Adoration of the cross by kissing or touching the cross will be limited to the celebrant this year. The guidelines recommend the assembly observe a period of silence, but an update from the Worship Office now permits an organized procession, such as a Communion procession, for adoration of the cross without touching.

Easter Vigil, April 3 — The rite of blessing the fire and preparation of the Paschal Candle may be celebrated in parishes that can do so safely. “It may be prudent for a small group to gather at the fire and participate in the procession to the church,” the guidelines say. If the assembly uses candles, they should not return them. Alternatively, the fire may be omitted and the liturgy may begin with the lighting of the Paschal Candle and a simple procession of ministers.

Rites of Initiation — If these sacraments will be celebrated, the guidelines recommend several additional precautions that center on hygiene — such as sanitizing hands frequently — keeping people at a safe distance and reducing unnecessary contact. Baptism by immersion is not recommended and water for each baptism should be taken from separate receptacles.

Easter Sunday, April 4 — Like Christmas liturgies, parishes will focus efforts on safely accommodating larger numbers of worshippers at Easter. Some will be taking reservations, others will have overflow space, while others have added extra Masses. Catholics are encouraged to contact their parish to make plans for Mass. Many parishes will also have livestreams of their Masses.

MusicLarge choirs may not gather yet, but small ensembles of instruments or singers may be used. The assembly may sing with masks. And some parishes may make use of instrumental music this Lent when it’s not ordinarily used. The guidelines say, “Because the pandemic has somewhat suppressed assembly and choral singing, instrumental music of appropriately solemn character may be used in Lenten and Holy Week liturgies this year.” It should not replace silence when the ritual calls for silence.

Dispensation — For those who are concerned about attending Mass due to the pandemic, the obligation to attend continues to be dispensed.

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