March 21 2020
It’s probably the oddest title and “decree” ever issued from the Vatican or from any organization. Yesterday (but dated March 19), the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDWDS) issued “Decree: In time of COVID-19.” It came from Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the CDWDS and Arthur Roche, Archbishop Secretary as a way to help the Church cope with the unique circumstances of this year’s Sacred Triduum.
Just two pages, it tells us what we already know – these are difficult times. So many have said it: we are in a liturgical fast! It’s been so awful to not gather with the Body of Christ for Eucharist, Liturgy of the Hours, and other devotions. One person said to me, “Can’t we even do the Stations of the Cross, after all, we are all living this with tis huge, heavy cross now!” And so, we are!
To help us wrap our heads around these sacred events of the Chrism Mass and Triduum in this challenging time, this decree reminds us that Easter and the Triduum cannot be “transferred to another time.” These dates are fixed due to the nature of the liturgical cycle. Historically we have had crazy years such as the “year without the sun,” when a volcano erupted in 1803, or the “Spanish” flu epidemic in 1918. But this was before mass communication, satellite images and early health warnings.
Sadly, this year the People of God will go without. There will be a fast from these great days. This guide helps us celebrate in a private way certain pieces of these special rites:
- Chrism Mass, when appropriate for the diocese, as chosen by the bishop, can be moved to a later date.
- Holy Thursday, evening Mass of the LORD’S Supper, may be celebrated privately by priest(s) only.
- Foot Washing is omitted. (It curiously said that this ritual was already optional, but I know of religious communities that have always done this in their liturgical history, even before the Second Vatican Council. Will they dispense with it now due to health concerns?)
- If priests are unable to celebrate this Mass they are to pray the Liturgy of the Hours.
- There is no procession with the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday. In a rare turnabout from tradition, this year the Blessed Sacrament is placed in the tabernacle and not transferred. This year the Blessed Sacrament can be in the tabernacle from Holy Thursday night thru Easter Vigil post-communion.
- There should be a special pray for the Universal Prayers of Good Friday for the “sick, dead, for those who feel lost or dismayed.”
- The fire is omitted from the Easter Vigil.
- The Paschal Candle is lit – but, apparently in a simple manner.
- The Easter Vigil’s Liturgy of the Word takes place.
- The third part of the Easter Vigil is to only have the “Renewal of Baptismal Promises.”
- Diocesan bishops are to make decisions about monasteries, seminaries and religious communities. Let’s hope that they consult one another and collaborate.
Pope Francis mandates all this “for the year 2020 only”. Let’s hope and pray that this be so — only one year without the usual celebration of our precious Sacred Triduum. We need to hope for Easter joy and a renewal for that time — since this has felt like a long, hard Lent. We pray for healing, cures, and good health to quickly come to our world. We are all connected in a special communion this year, especially with our health. The Body of Christ has always been fragile, with one part always affecting the other. This year has proven it so.