(Updated 14/3/20 13:15 CET with news of Seville Holy Week cancellation below)

The Spanish bishops have hinted at the cancellation of the country’s famous Holy Week processions after the government declared this Friday a “state of alarm” over the COVID-19 crisis.

– Prelates pledge “willingness to collaborate responsibly” with authorities

March 13 the Spanish central government took the step of declaring an emergency over the coronavirus crisis.

That meant that the Madrid administration will take on extraordinary powers – such as the potential limiting of citizens’ movements, the temporary requisitioning of assets, the rationing of essential items and the establishment of a direct chain of command to the capital over regional authorities and law and order forces – for only the second time in the country’s post-Franco democracy.

As set out in Spain’s constitution, a “state of alarm” declared solely by the government – as was the case Friday – can only last a maximum of fifteen days, although the situation can be prolonged by a favourable vote in the country’s Congress of Deputies.

In response to the government’s declaration Friday, the Spanish Bishops published a statement promising their “willingness to collaborate responsibly in everything necessary to control this pandemic” of the coronavirus.

That much, the prelates added, “paying heed to the instructions of the health authorities,and especially to this declaration of the state of alarm, in the context of which criteria may be updated as the situation evolves and public authorities decide on new measures”.

– Bishops recommend following Mass online or on TV, but don’t take step of banning public celebrations

As for exactly how the Spanish Bishops envision the country’s Catholics collaborating with the state of alarm, the prelates said first of all that, “for as long as this emergency situation lasts, we recommend following the celebration of the Eucharist as a family through the media”.

With that said, however, the Spanish Bishops didn’t take on Friday the step of closing the country’s churches, either for public Masses or for private prayer.

Instead, they advised that “the regular celebrations of the Eucharist can be maintained with the sole presence of the priest and a possible small group” of faithful – avoiding at all times the accumulation of large groups of people.

The bishops also warned that “it is advisable that people with chronic diseases, the elderly, the frail or people otherwise at risk, as well as those who live with them, refrain from attending the celebration” of Mass.

– “Pastoral creativity to live Lent and Easter in a new way”… without processions?

Reading between the lines of the Bishops’ Friday communiqué, however, there was a palpable concern over how the coronavirus crisis in Spain could deteroriate even further in coming weeks.

The virus had already led this Friday to 4.209 infections and 120 deaths in Spain in what has been the illness’ second-worst European outbreak after Italy.

“We are all being recommended to leave the house as little as possible”, the Spanish Bishops said, expressing their “utmost concern for the severity of the situation… which continues to experience exponential growth”.

“For this reason, we appeal to everyone to follow the instructions of the health authorities to avoid the accelerated advance of the disease with hygienic measures and the avoidance of contacts that facilitate contagion”, the prelates continued.

“This situation calls us to a pastoral creativity to help each other to live Lent and Easter in a new way”, the Bishops insisted, adding, in one single phrase and without further explanation or elaboration, that “the processions of this season should be sidelined”.

Spain’s famous Holy Week processions, particularly in the south, are known the world over as one of the country’s most famous religious and touristic drawcards, with their hooded penitents, their elaborate statues, their emotive songs and chants lit up by candlelight but above of all for their thronging crowds of pilgrims.

– Update: 14/3/20 13:15 CET: Seville town hall, Church, confraternities suspend Holy Week celebrations

The Seville town hall, Church and Catholic confraternities have this Saturday decided to suspend their Holy Week celebrations over the COVID-19 threat.

The decision, taken out of public health concerns as the coronavirus toll reached 5.232 infected patients and 133 deaths in Spain this March 14, will deal a massive emotional blow to Sevillians and an estimated economic impact of 500 million euros, due to the loss of jobs and tourist spending.

More from Spain on Novena:

New ‘Francis bishops’ at helm of Spanish Episcopal Conference poised to finally bring country, Church up to date

“Catholic Spain” goes the way of the dodo

Novena’s full coverage of the coronavirus emergency


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.