A Decree entitled “In time of Covid-19” (II), has been issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on Wednesday, 25 March 2020. The new document updates an earlier decree, dated 19 March 2020. It contains responses to questions it has received regarding the celebration of the Easter liturgy. Both Decrees are issued “by mandate of the Supreme Pontiff, for the year 2020 only”.
Date Easter is celebrated
Since the Solemnity of Easter cannot be transferred, the Decree states that, “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”.
Participation of the faithful
The Decree encourages pastors to inform the faithful of the times of the liturgical celebrations, “so that they can prayerfully unite themselves in their homes” to the prayer of the Church. In this regard, the Decree continues, the “means of live (not recorded) telematic broadcasts can be of help”. It then emphasizes how important it is to dedicate “adequate time for prayer”. The Liturgy of the Hours, it noted, is especially important.
Holy Week begins with the celebration of Palm Sunday. “The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is to be celebrated within sacred buildings”, the Decree says. When celebrated in Cathedral churches, it specifies the second form from the Roman Missal is to be used, and the third form when it takes place in parish churches.
The Chrism Mass
The latest Decree says that the Episcopal Conferences “will be able to give indications about a possible transfer to another date” for the Chrism Mass. It is generally celebrated in every diocese on Holy Thursday, or on another day of Holy Week.
On Holy Thursday, the “washing of the feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted” the Decree says. The customary procession at the conclusion of the Mass, when the Blessed Sacrament is taken to the Altar of Repose, is to likewise omitted. The Blessed Sacrament is to be reposed in the tabernacle.
The Decree grants special permission to all priests to celebrate Mass “in a suitable place, without the presence of the people”.
Wherever the celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place, the Decree directs Bishops to “arrange to have a special intention prepared for those who find themselves in distress, the sick, the dead”. The decree also indicates that “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”, the Decree states. The updated Decree clarifies that “in the ‘Baptismal Liturgy’, only the ‘Renewal of Baptismal Promises’ is to be maintained”.
Wednesday’s Decree notes that “seminaries, houses of clergy, monasteries, and religious communities shall follow the indications of this decree.”
It also indicates that, unlike the official liturgical celebrations, “expressions of popular piety and processions which enrich the days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum can be transferred to other suitable days in the year”. An example given is 14 and 15 September (the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows). Determinations about the transfer of such devotions is left to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop.
In an interview with Vatican Media, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, explaied how, during the coronavirus pandemic “we must try to stop the contagion, without stopping our prayer”. On the contrary, he says, we need to pray more.
Archbishop Roche said, “It’s clear to everyone that we are living at a time of emergency, with rapidly changing situations. Crises of this magnitude sometimes need new adjustments and updates. The first text was issued several days ago. Some important updates became indispensable. Above all, we consulted the Episcopal Conferences of the countries most affected by the pandemic. We tried to take their observations into account”
Responding to the idea of celebrating Easter without the presence of the faithful, Archbishop Roche said, “It’s very painful. However, during this time of isolation, we’ve seen how priests’ creativity has increased. How every day they find ways to be near people with every means currently available. Many people daily follow the Holy Father’s Mass from Santa Marta. And they follow other celebrations through social media. Many of the faithful pray the Rosary in link-ups via radio, television or the web. We are living in an exceptional moment. Let’s not forget that Jesus speaks about personal prayer, inviting us to pray in our rooms and therefore in our homes. We know that by its nature the Christian faith is relationship and community: common prayer and common participation at the Eucharistic table is fundamental. But in this moment of trial we must try to stop the contagion, without stopping our prayer. On the contrary, we need to pray more. It’s important the faithful be informed about the time the celebrations begin, so they can join in prayer in their homes and follow the celebrations live, participating in them like that.”