Vatican updates guidelines for Holy Week liturgies during coronavirus pandemic

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments signed the March 20 decree related to Holy Week liturgies during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Bohumil Petrik - Catholic News Agency)

By Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency

[Vatican City – CNA] – After dioceses throughout the world suspended public Masses in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Congregation for Divine Worship has updated its decree on Holy Week liturgies.

The Congregation for Eastern Churches issued a similar decree.

“Given that the date of Easter cannot be transferred, 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,” states the updated decree issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship March 25.

The document recommends that parishes and dioceses inform Catholics of times of Easter Sunday Mass and other Holy Week liturgies, so that “they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes” via live broadcast or streaming, if possible.

“In any event, it remains important to dedicate an adequate time to prayer, giving importance above all to the Liturgia Horarum.”

The Congregation for Eastern Churches also issued recommendations March 25, while calling on the heads of all Eastern Catholic Churches to issue norms sui iuris in accordance with the measures established by civil authorities for containment of the contagion. The recommendations for Eastern Catholic rites include maintaining feast days on the liturgical calendar by live broadcast, limiting participation of the choir, and encouraging prayer at home.

“Any baptisms scheduled for Easter are postponed to another date,” the letter signed by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the congregation, states.

The updated decree by the Congregation for Divine Worship reiterates the guidelines issued earlier (see article below) 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 Episcopal 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, (cf. Missale Romanum). The adoration of the Cross by kissing it shall be limited solely to the celebrant.

The Easter Vigil – Is to be celebrated only in Cathedral and parish churches. For the “Baptismal Liturgy” only the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises” is maintained (cf. Missale Romanum).

“The Episcopal Conferences and individual dioceses will see to it that resources are provided to support family and personal prayer,” the decree states.


Vatican: Easter date can not be changed, despite coronavirus, according to decree published March 20 

By Hannah Brockhaus, Canadian Catholic News

[Vatican City – CNA] – The Vatican department for liturgy published guidelines March 20, 2020 for bishops and priests on the celebration of Holy Week, the Triduum, and Easter liturgies during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The document recommends that bishops postpone those liturgies which may be postponed. It also indicates how priests and bishops can offer those celebrations which cannot be moved – such as Easter – in places where public liturgies are suspended.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments published the “general indications” after receiving inquiries from several bishops.

The decree was signed by the congregation’s prefect Cardinal Robert Sarah and Secretary Archbishop Arthur Roche and authorized “by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff, for the year 2020 only,” meaning that the recommendations cannot be used in future years.

“Easter is the heart of the entire liturgical year and is not simply one feast among others,” the document states, and that the Easter Triduum “cannot be transferred to another time.”

The congregation’ document also says that the bishop has faculties to postpone the Chrism Mass of Holy Week.

The Paschal Triduum is the three days leading up to and including Easter Sunday. It begins at sundown Holy Thursday and ends on sundown Easter Sunday.

The decree orders that, in the places where there are restrictions from civil and Church authorities, the bishop, in agreement with the bishops’ conference, may offer the liturgies of the Easter Triduum in the cathedral, and priests of the diocese may offer the liturgies in their parishes, without the physical presence of the faithful.

“The faithful should be informed of the times of the celebration so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes,” it indicates, adding that live television or internet broadcasts are helpful in this situation.

Dioceses and bishops’ conferences should provide resources to support families and individuals in personal prayer, it adds.

The document also provides several suggestions for the offering of the particular liturgies by priests and bishops.

All priests may offer Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a suitable place, without the public, it says, but the washing of the feet, which is already optional, should be omitted.

The procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose at the end of Mass should also be omitted and the Blessed Sacrament should remain in the tabernacle.

Good Friday’s service of the Passion of the Lord may be celebrated in cathedrals and parish churches, the congregation said, and the universal prayers should include an intention for the sick, the dead, and those who feel lost and dismayed.

The guidelines indicate that the Easter Vigil may only be offered in cathedrals and parish churches, “where, and in the measure that there is a real possibility of doing so, established by the one responsible.”

The preparing and lighting of the fire during the “Solemn Beginning of the Vigil or Lucenarium” is omitted, it says. The Paschal Candle is lit, the procession is omitted, and the Easter Proclamation (Exsultet) follows.

The Mass proceeds as usual, apart from the “Baptismal Liturgy,” where “the renewal of baptismal promises alone is necessary,” it explains.

The document states that “those who have absolutely no possibility of uniting themselves to the Paschal Vigil celebrated in a church should pray the Office of Readings for Easter Sunday.”

Processions and other devotions of popular piety that usually take place during Holy Week and the Easter Triduum can be transferred by the diocesan bishop to other days during the year, such as September 14 and 15, it states.