The Vatican has insisted that even despite coronavirus Easter “cannot be transferred to another time”.
– Supreme Vatican liturgical body: “Easter is the heart of the entire liturgical year. not simply one feast among others”
“Easter is the heart of the entire liturgical year and is not simply one feast among others”, the Prefect and Secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah and Archbishop Arthur Roche, recalled in a decree published this Friday “in time [sic] of COVID-19″.
“The Easter Triduum is celebrated over the arc of three days which is preceded by Lent and crowned by Pentecost”, and therefore cannot be postponed, not even for such a serious health emergency as is that of coronavirus, Sarah and Roche said.
That was in response to the “number of queries” they said they had received about the imminent celebration of Christianity’s holiest time of the year.
– Concessions: Chrism Mass can be postponed, other rites can be omitted
Despite their firmness that Easter should go ahead from Palm Sunday April 5 to the Resurrection Sunday April 12, Sarah and Roche did offer some leniency to bishops and priests around the world.
The Chrism Mass, for example – traditionally celebrated on Maundy Thursday, and in which bishops and priests renew their baptismal and ordination promises – can be postponed, the Vatican authorities said.
Continuing on, Sarah and Roche instructed bishops to celebrate wherever possible with the priests the mysteries of the Paschal Triduum, and to facilitate via televisual or internet broadcasts along with prayer resources the participation of Catholics at home.
On Holy Thursday, too, “the washing of feet, which is already optional, is to be omitted”, Sarah and Roche advised, as is the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose at the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
On Good Friday, also, “the Bishop will see to it that there is a special intention for the sick, the dead, for those who feel lost or dismayed”, the officials of the Vatican’s supreme liturgical body instructed.
With regard to the Easter Vigil on the evening before Resurrection Sunday, that “is to be celebrated only in Cathedral and parish churches, where and in the measure that there is a real possibility of doing so”, with the omission of the preparation and lighting of the fire and the procession, Sarah and Roche said.
The Vatican prelates furthermore advised that “those who have absolutely no possibility of uniting themselves to the Paschal Vigil celebrated in a church should pray the Office of Readings for Easter Sunday”.
– What about the Pope’s Holy Week?
Even if, according to the advice of Sarah and Roche, Easter is to go ahead this year as every year on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon, the Vatican officials did open the door to celebrating other expressions of popular piety around the feast, such as Easter processions, on “other suitable days in the year, for example 14 and 15 September, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop”.
The decree today from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments – which comes as the Vatican also facilitated the granting of general absolution and of special plenary indulgences for coronavirus patients, their families and their caregivers – clears up confusion around how Easter will celebrated in dioceses around the world.
But it still does not resolve the unknown of how the Pope himself will celebrate Easter, and in what form the papal celebrations of the feast will be open to the participation of the faithful.
A notice from the Prefecture of the Papal Household earlier this week said that “because of the current global public health emergency, all the [Pope’s] Liturgical Celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful”.
The Vatican, however, appeared to walk that notice back somewhat later, when Holy See spokesman Matteo Bruni clarified that the form of the Pope’s Holy Week celebrations was still “under study”.