Church in South Africa Suspends Holy Week Celebrations amid Dwindling Resources

Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, South Africa.
Credit: Public Domain

As South Africa battles to curb the spread of COVID-19, with officials confirming the first cases of local transmission, including four children aged under six years, the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg has announced that little will be done to mark the Holy Week and Easter celebrations, even as Parishes in the Archdiocese run short of financial resources.

 “In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, the President of the Republic announced on Sunday, 15th March that gatherings of more than a 100 people are not allowed. This order has a direct bearing on Church celebrations,” reads in part a statement from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg availed to ACI Africa.

“During Holy week, there will be no public celebration of Chrism Mass,” the Tuesday, March 17 statement signed by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale reads and adds, “Instead, Mass of the Oils will be celebrated by the Bishops and members of the Council of Priests. Oils will be available for collection.”

The Statement notes that owing to the difficulty of limiting Church members to 100, Palm Sunday Procession, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil will not be celebrated publicly in the Archdiocese.

In the communique, Archbishop Tlhagale encourages the faithful to join their Small Christian Communities, zonal prayer groups and their families to follow the prayers and readings that are offered in their Missals.

“Those communities that have less than 100 members may celebrate publicly according to custom,” the Archbishop says.

On Thursday, March 12, South Africa confirmed its first 14 cases of local transmission. Five days later, Wednesday, March 17, the country’s health ministry confirmed the transmission to four children aged below six including a two-year old.

The health minister also announced that the number of people who had tested positive for COVID-19 had risen to 150 from 86 on Monday, March 16.

On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and imposed a travel ban on foreign nationals from eight high-risk countries including the UK, US, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Germany and China.

Gatherings of more than 100 people were prohibited while the population was advised to minimize contact with others and do the "elbow greeting" rather than shaking hands. Schools, nurseries and universities were also ordered to remain shut from Wednesday onwards.

Faced with these measures from the government, the Archdiocese of Johannesburg has also limited the number of persons to attend Holy Mass to 100.

According to the statement addressed to the faithful, the Easter Sunday Mass will be celebrated by “not more than 100 persons.”

“Ordinary Sunday Masses may be celebrated at different hours. The numbers are to be limited to a 100. A priest may celebrate not more than 5 Masses on Sunday,” the message adds.

First Communion and Confirmation, according to Archbishop Tlhagale, may be celebrated at the Priest's discretion “provided that the participants include parents, sponsors and the candidates, and that the total number of the Faithful is not more than 100 people.”

Meanwhile, the South African Prelate has noted with concern the implications of suspending and limiting attendance to church functions, saying that parishes will suffer due to lack of financial resources.

“The suspension of Masses will inevitably have a serious negative impact on the income of parishes,” he said, adding, “Many parishes will struggle to pay for utilities, stipends, among others.”

But he says that Catholics will do everything they can to participate in the government’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“Catholics are also citizens of South Africa. The Government has made a call on all South Africans to become involved in the gallant effort to curb the spread of the Corona virus and to save lives,” reads the statement from Archbishop Tlhagale.  

“We hereby dispense ALL the Catholics in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg from attending Mass during the entire period of this disaster,” the South African Prelate says.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]