Global pandemic changes liturgies worldwide
Questions and answers with Father Michael P. Sikon
By Mary Seamans
The celebration of the Paschal Triduum marks the holiest days of the Church year. The saving events that we celebrate invite the faithful to give glory to the Father as we commemorate the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. This year the coronavirus challenges us to celebrate the mysteries of Christ with reasonable limitations and in cooperation with directives from government and health officials to stem the spread of the virus. The unique liturgical changes experienced this year derive from recent instructions provided by the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Father Michael P. Sikon, director of worship for the diocese, answers questions about the changes for Holy Week and Easter this year.
What will be different about Holy Week this year?
Everything. From the perspective of the faithful, the experience of Holy Week is going to be painful. These are the holiest days of our Church year, when we gather to journey with the Lord through his passion, death and resurrection. But this year, the whole community of believers is going to take up this journey, united as members of the Body of Christ, but physically separated.
Will blessed palms be distributed on Palm Sunday?
Regrettably, no. Palm will be blessed in our churches at the private Masses celebrated by our priests. It will only be available for distribution once the norms governing social distance and leaving our homes only for essential needs are lifted.
Why can’t the celebration of Easter be transferred to another date?
Easter is the heart of the entire liturgical year and cannot be transferred to another time; it establishes the course of the full Church year. The Paschal Triduum guides us through the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord so we can enter into the 50 glorious days of the Easter season, which draw to a close on Pentecost. Changing the date of Easter would change the entire course of Church life.
What about the Chrism Mass?
Because of the response to the coronavirus, it is not possible for the clergy and faithful to gather for the Chrism Mass on the traditional date of Holy Thursday. The local bishop can transfer this celebration and the blessing and consecration of the holy oils to a later date, which Bishop Edward C. Malesic will do when it is possible for the faithful to again gather in large numbers.
Won’t this mean that priests and parishes will be without holy oils?
No. The oils that were distributed at last year’s Chrism Mass may still be used in the celebration of the sacraments. Priests in need of more Oil of the Sick may always bless olive oil for the sacred anointing. The same is true of the Oil of Catechumens. And if they run short of Sacred Chrism, the Office for Worship has some.
What about the catechumens and candidates in RCIA? When will they celebrate the sacraments of initiation?
The world has changed a lot since the First Sunday of Lent when we celebrated the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion. Ordinarily at the Easter Vigil we celebrate baptism, confirmation and Eucharist. This will take place after the public celebration of Mass resumes.
Because there will be no public celebration of the liturgies of the Triduum, are there any changes to what ordinarily takes place?
On Holy Thursday, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, there will be no reception of the holy oils, because the Chrism Mass has not yet been celebrated. The washing of feet is not permitted this year. At the end of Mass, there will not be a procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the place of reposition. It will simply be returned to the tabernacle.
On Good Friday, at the celebration of the Passion of the Lord, the Holy Father has requested that an additional 11th intercession be added for an end to the pandemic and for all who suffer from it. The Veneration of the Cross is to be made with a genuflection or a bow; no touching or kissing of the cross is permitted.
The Easter Vigil will not have the preparation and lighting of the fire. The sacraments of Christian initiation will be delayed to a later date. Easter water will be blessed, but it will only be made available to the faithful at a later time.
How can the faithful participate in these liturgies?
Bishop Malesic will preside at the Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday liturgies of the Triduum and be united in prayer through diocesan online resources with all the faithful of the Diocese of Greensburg. There are many other online resources available for the Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture, song and prayer. Many parishes will livestream or stream their liturgical celebrations. Please consider using the prayer at the bottom of this page or one similar to express your spiritual communion with Christ who is present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Mass.
What will you miss?
We’ve never experienced a Holy Week like this. As a pastor, I grieve with those members of our community who cannot physically join in these liturgies. Easter is the day when our church is filled to capacity, over and over and over. This year, we pray that the faithful welcome clergy into their homes via the internet, television and radio so we can all stay connected this Easter season.
What are your final thoughts?
Despite the worries, concerns and frustrations, Easter is our time of hope. Death does not have the last word. The Lord of Life is not limited by our restrictions. Each year, during these days, he invites us to place all our trust in him. This year, we’re simply asked to make that offering in ways that we never imagined.