Toward Holy Week 2021: Vatican Issues Guidelines for Catholics amid COVID-19 Restrictions

Pope Francis celebrates the Liturgy of the Passion of Our Lord in St. Peter's Basilica April 14, 2017. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

The Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued guidelines on Wednesday for the celebration of Holy Week this year in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In the note signed Feb. 17 by the congregation’s prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah and secretary Archbishop Arthur Roche, the congregation said that bishops were called upon to make prudent decisions regarding the liturgy in line with the Vatican decree on Holy Week liturgies issued in March 2020, which will remain valid for this year.

“We therefore invite you to re-read it in view of the decisions that bishops will have to make about the upcoming Easter celebrations in the particular situation of their country,” it said.

“Many countries still have strict lockdown conditions in force rendering it impossible for the faithful to be present in church, while in others a more normal pattern of worship is being resumed.”

The congregation noted that the use of social media has aided pastors in offering support to their communities during the pandemic, but it added that “problematic aspects were also observed.”

In light of this concern, the Vatican suggested that media coverage of the Holy Week liturgies offered by the local bishop are “facilitated and favored, encouraging the faithful who are unable to attend their own church to follow the diocesan celebrations as a sign of unity.”

The guidelines also recommended the preparation of prayer aids for family and personal prayer that make use of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The decree issued in March 2020 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, which remains valid in 2021, included the following guidelines for the liturgies of Holy Week in areas where there are restrictions on public gatherings from civil and Church authorities:

Palm Sunday: The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is to be celebrated within sacred buildings; in cathedral churches the second form given in the Roman Missal is to be adopted; in parish churches and in other places the third form is to be used.

The Chrism Mass: Evaluating the concrete situation in different countries, the bishops’ conferences will be able to give indications about a possible transfer to another date.

Holy Thursday: The washing of feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted. At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the procession is also omitted and the Blessed Sacrament is to be kept in the tabernacle. On this day the faculty to celebrate Mass in a suitable place, without the presence of the people, is exceptionally granted to all priests.

Good Friday: In the Universal Prayer, bishops will arrange to have a special intention prepared for those who find themselves in distress, the sick, the dead. The adoration of the Cross by kissing it shall be limited solely to the celebrant.

The Easter Vigil: This will be celebrated only in cathedral and parish churches. For the “Baptismal Liturgy” only the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” is maintained.

The new note from the Congregation said: “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.”

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