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Holy Week liturgies to go on without faithful present

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BRAINTREE -- Despite the continuing suspension of public Masses and services, the liturgies of the Easter Triduum -- the pinnacle of the Christian year -- will go on at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Boston, though this year the faithful will be asked to participate from afar.

In light of measures to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has issued two decrees, dated March 19 and March 25, regarding what should and should not be done when observing the liturgies of Holy Week in the absence of the faithful.

Based on these directives, and in keeping with state restrictions on public gatherings, the Archdiocese of Boston has issued guidelines for the observance of Holy Week liturgies in parishes and collaboratives.

"While we would love to observe Holy Week in our churches with parishioners and culminating in the Easter celebration, it is clear we need to make alternative plans. We find ourselves in this new reality out of an abundance of concern for our faithful and doing our part following the Governor's recent executive orders," Terrence Donilon, the archdiocese's secretary for communications and public affairs, said in a March 25 statement.

Although the suspension of Masses in the archdiocese will still be in effect, each parish or collaborative is to celebrate the Holy Week liturgies. The number of people present, such as concelebrants, altar servers, lectors, and musicians, may not exceed 10.

Since the faithful cannot attend, pastors are encouraged to livestream their liturgies and publicize the time of the livestreams, so their parishioners can watch and pray with them at home.

"The invitation of the faithful is to participate online or, if they cannot, to unite themselves spiritually at the same time," Thomas Lyman, the archdiocese's coordinator of divine worship, said in a March 27 interview.

There is to be no procession on Palm Sunday, April 5, and no distribution of palms at any time.

The Chrism Mass, which usually takes place on the Tuesday of Holy Week, will be postponed until late spring or early summer. At that time, instructions will be given for obtaining the sacred oils, which are used for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and anointing of the sick.

On Holy Thursday, April 9, there will be no washing of feet, which is already optional. There will be no eucharistic procession after Communion.

On Good Friday, April 10, a Solemn Intercession "for the sick, the dead, the lost or dismayed" is to be added. There will be no procession with the cross, and veneration of the cross should be made only by bowing or genuflecting.

For the Easter Vigil on April 11, there will be no blessing of the fire and no procession with the Paschal Candle. The baptismal liturgy will consist only of the renewal of baptismal promises.

One of the most significant consequences of not having the faithful present for these liturgies is that the sacraments of initiation for new Catholics will not take place at the Easter Vigil. Pastors are being asked to reschedule the rites when public Masses are again allowed.

"The good news is that RCIA is arranged so that the sacraments, for serious pastoral needs, can be done at another time. So if you do the RCIA at a different point in the liturgical year, the structure of the rite remains the same," Lyman said.

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley has also dispensed the elect from the celebration of the scrutinies, minor liturgies during the Sunday Masses leading up to Easter. The scrutinies consist of questions, answers, and prayers as the elect prepare for their reception into the Church.

Lyman said he would encourage pastors and parish staff members to contact their region's evangelization consultants if they have questions or concerns.

He also said that there are opportunities for prayer and study online, including free resources that have been made available. The Office of Divine Worship has compiled a list of resources for Holy Week that is available on its website.

"You could create your own little spiritual journey at home out of these things," Lyman said.

Information on the Vatican decrees, liturgical directives, and Holy Week resources can be found at bostoncatholic.org/divine-worship.

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