The Vatican has issued on Wednesday, February 17, a new set of guidelines for the observance of Holy Week this year. The amendments were made in light of the ongoing threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a note published by the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, all Catholic bishops are instructed to develop local protocols for this year’s Holy Week from March 28 to April 4. It requires that the protocols be in line with the Vatican decree on Holy Week liturgies issued last March 2020. (Read: We asked celebrities: ‘What’s your Holy Week tradition?’)
“We, therefore, invite you to re-read it (Vatican decree) in view of the decisions that bishops will have to make about the upcoming Easter celebrations in the particular situation of their country,” writes Cardinal Robert Sarah and Archbishop Arthur Roche, the prefect and the secretary of the congregation, respectively.
Pointing out the differences in COVID-19 protocols across the world, the congregation acknowledged the importance of social media in promoting the faith amid the quarantines and lockdowns imposed in different countries.
“Many countries still have strict lockdown conditions in force, rendering it impossible for the faithful to be present in the church,” the note says. “While in others, a more normal pattern of worship is being resumed.” (Read: 4 Ways to Observe Holy Week While on Lockdown)
As such, the Vatican urges local bishops to distribute prayer aids among families and facilitate media coverage of the Holy Week liturgies. This is so that the faithful who are unable to go to the church will remain encouraged to “follow the diocesan celebrations as a sign of unity.”
Holy Week Guidelines
The decree issued in March 2020 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, which remains valid in 2021, is applicable to areas where public gatherings are restricted. See the provisions below.
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. (Read: Five things to know about Palm Sunday)
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.”