09 March 2021, The Tablet

No processions and no baptisms in Holy Week

No processions and no baptisms in Holy Week

Normally on Good Friday in Westminster, the different Christian communities meet for a procession and prayers.

Some of the most beloved rituals of Holy Week will not take place this year because of continuing concerns about transmission of the coronavirus. Instead there will be only subdued, limited services in England and Wales, following the issuing of instructions from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales. 

In a vade mecum – or guidance note – published on Tuesday, the bishops’ general principles include:

  • Abandoning the outdoor Palm Sunday procession

  • Cutting the washing of feet at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday

  • Leaving out the procession to the Altar of Repose and watching at the Altar of Repose

  • Stopping Adoration of the Cross by everyone other than the celebrant on Good Friday

  • Removing the outdoor parts of the Easter Vigil including the lighting of the paschal candal

  • Urging that nobody is baptised or received into the Church at the Easter Vigil. 

In its note, the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales explains: “The theological meaning found through the celebrations of Holy Week with their richness of sign and symbol have to be tempered by the provision that the Church in England and Wales is part of a broader community in which the possibilities of virus transmission are still high”. 

And in an effort to bring the faithful together, despite the continuing difficulties of worship at this time, it has urged people who cannot attend services in person to focus instead on the liturgies of their local bishop. The vade mecum says: “There should be a focus on the media coverage of liturgies presided over by the diocesan bishop so that those who are unable to attend their own church [should] follow the diocesan celebrations as a sign of unity. Thus the times of the cathedral celebrations of the Sacred Triduum should be promoted in each of the dioceses of England and Wales alongside the local parochial celebrations.” 

While the reconfigured rubrics may come as a blow to Catholics for whom the Triduum is the most precious moment of the liturgical year, the amendments mark progress from last year when congregations could not attend any services at all. This year’s plans have been drawn up following a note being issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome, discussions with the Government’s places of worship task force, which has kept its ban on congregational singing, and advice from the Catholic bishops’ own public health adviser, Jim McManus. 

One surprise for the laity will be the decision not to hold events outside, such as the Palm Sunday procession and the first part of the Easter Vigil, but there was concern that these might lead to crowding, a lack of social distancing and, with the Easter Vigil, people bumping into one another in the dark. 

Among the key guidance outlined in the vade mecum is that on Palm Sunday, as well as no procession, the bishops urge the shorter form of the Gospel of Mark should be used and without multiple readers. Palm branches can be distributed. 

The Chrism Mass can go ahead with some concelebrants, renewal of priestly promises and distribution of oils.

On Maundy Thursday, for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, as well as no feet washing there will be no procession to the altar of repose, and “the altar should not be stripped in the usual manner”. Watching is not possible either. 

On Good Friday there are cuts to the main Good Friday service, with the “turba” parts of the Gospel not exclaimed by the congregation. Adoration of the Cross is limited to the celebrant. During the prayers, a special intention for the “afflicted  in time of pandemic” should be inserted. 

If Stations of the Cross takes place on Good Friday, the congregation should not move around the church. 

At the Easter Vigil there should be no carrying of the paschal candle and instead it should be lit before the congregation arrives or at the beginning of the service. The faithful should not have votive candles. The Reading should be cut to two Old Testament extracts from the Law and Prophets, plus Exodus 14 and its canticle, and the Gospel. Baptisms, receptions and Confirmations are not recommended. 

On Easter Day Mass can be celebrated as usual, but with no sprinkling of water. 

Standard public health practices continue in place, regarding the wearing of masks, hand sanitisation and social distancing. The bishops also say that the times of liturgical celebrations should also be arranged so that “those who have to travel via public transport to the local church are doing so in periods where there is less congestion on these services”.

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