From Palm Sunday through the celebration of Easter, Catholics around the world celebrated the holiest of weeks united knowing that the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the central tenant of the Faith.
There is no denying that Holy Week 2020 was unprecedented, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing the suspension gatherings for Mass across the globe. However, thanks to modern technology, the faithful were able to stay connected to the Church from afar.
The live streaming of Holy Week services – Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter – from parishes to the faithful on their home computer or television was the form of presence this year.
Bishop Frank J. Dewane, who celebrated the Triduum liturgies from Epiphany Cathedral, said the temporary closure of churches is a bitter affliction that all feel deeply.
“I am painfully aware that this causes you, good Catholics, difficulty as you are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the consolation of those Sacraments in your life,” Bishop Dewane said “Our churches are closed, but yet I think we have to think of something else. Christ isn’t quarantined from any of us. Indeed, the Gospel is not in chains. The Word of the Lord, it is out there. It is alive” Bishop Dewane said. “In prayer and in Faith we are people of the Word, the Word of God, the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. With both of these together, whether its online or from a distance, nothing can stand in our way.”
Images of Pope Francis celebrating Mass in an empty St. Peters Basilica, or perhaps it was a priest standing behind the altar with no congregation present, did not diminish the significance of the liturgies. In fact, by tuning in to these celebrations, the faithful of Holy Mother Church were united in a way like never before. Remotely yes, but with a renewed appreciation for the Mass and the power of Holy Week that many may have taken for granted.
“Thank you for the beautiful Mass. The Church is empty,” one person noted on social media after watching Mass on Palm Sunday streamed live from Epiphany Cathedral in Venice.
While the gathering for Mass had been suspended since mid-March, Palm Sunday, a day marking the triumphant entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, with its traditional distribution of palms and uplifting liturgy, as well as the reading of the Passion of Christ, assist in putting the faithful in the right frame of mind for the significant events of Holy Week.
The physical separation of the faithful from the Church, changed the way one celebrated Holy Week, a week that brings comfort to many as the symbolism and traditions have been celebrated unchanged for centuries.
Parishes encouraged the faithful to proudly display palms – readily found in Florida – or other greenery, either on the doors or windows of their homes. The most imaginative created elaborate palm fans or large palm crosses for display, while others stood by the traditional placing of a palm frond behind a cross in their home or on the door knocker.
As Holy Week progressed, the faithful were comforted by seeing images from the Triduum (Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil) as well as the joyous celebration of Easter, the pinnacle of the Church year.
While each liturgy went on as usual, there were some differences that were necessary in light of the ongoing threat of the pandemic and need for social distancing.
On Holy Thursday, which celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the Sacrament of the Priesthood, some things seemed different. For example, omitted because of the pandemic, and optional every year, was the washing of the feet by the Holy Father, Bishops and priests. In addition, following the liturgy, the Blessed Sacrament is traditionally taken to a place of repose, usually with a procession and time for Eucharistic Adoration, as the altar is stripped bare and the tabernacle emptied. Instead, with no congregation present and social distancing needed, the Blessed Sacrament was returned to the tabernacle and no Adoration took place.
On Good Friday, the most notable change was that there was no veneration of the cross, a time when the faithful would come forward to either kneel, touch, or kiss a cross with the corpus. At Epiphany Cathedral, Bishop Dewane and the concelebrating priests for the liturgy, did venerate the cross from a kneeler placed before the cross in front of the altar. The faithful, watching from the safety of their home, were in fact encouraged to venerate a cross at home, or even the cross on a rosary when no cross was present. This symbolic gesture is a show of gratitude to Christ for enduring suffering and death for the forgiveness of our sins.
The Easter Vigil, a Mass held after sunset on Saturday, April 11, 2020, is one of the most powerful liturgies of the year. The celebration is to start in darkness, usually with the Easter fire lit and the Easter Candle brought forward. This year, the Easter Candle was lit and there was no Easter fire. This needed change removed the opportunity for the congregation to each have lit candles, providing a soft glow inside the church. In addition, the church was not darkened for the first part of the liturgy, when a series of readings, beginning with Genesis, were read.
The portion of the liturgy unable to take place this year was when catechumens and candidates, those entering into full Communion with the Church, receive the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion. A new date for the opportunity for the entry into the Church for catechumens and candidates has not been determined.
The rest of the Easter Vigil and the Easter Sunday liturgies were unaltered. The Renewal of Baptismal Promises was made at both but from afar for those watching at home.
Bishop Dewane remarked during the televised Mass on Easter, how “this Holy Day is the basis of our Faith. This year we celebrated the Resurrection differently… and maybe this was the Easter Season that changed how each grows to believe and view the Resurrection. May this renewed belief and Faith continue to grow from this experience as we go forward from Easter into the Easter Season.”