April 6, 2020
|A life-size representation of Jesus carrying the cross is seen on the grounds of the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass. (CNS photo/Octavio Duran)|
FORT WORTH — For the first time in modern memory, Catholics around the world will observe Holy Week and celebrate Easter Sunday in a different way. With churches closed for public worship and families isolated in their homes to reduce the spread of coronavirus, keeping the holiest week on the Christian calendar “holy” is both a challenge and an opportunity.
“In one sense, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to enter into the Passion and Resurrection of Christ in a way we’ve never experienced before,” explained Deacon Don Warner, diocesan director of Liturgy and Worship. “We’re doing it from our homes instead of attending services in person.”
The change is necessary to follow mandates issued by civil authorities to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s for the safety of the clergy and people,” he added. “All of us want to limit the effects of the virus.”
On Easter Sunday morning, women came to anoint the body of Christ only to find an empty tomb.
“Our churches may be empty, like the tomb, but we still are an Easter people,” Dcn. Warner said. “We still celebrate Easter whether we are in church or not, because Christ is with us whether we’re inside a church or not.”
To help local Catholics connect spiritually with the sacred liturgies of the Triduum and Easter, the Diocese of Fort Worth will livestream Holy Thursday Mass, Good Friday services, 8:30 p.m. Easter Vigil Mass, and the 11 a.m. Easter Sunday Mass from St. Patrick Cathedral on the diocesan website, fwdioc.org. A minister will interpret for the deaf at all services. At least 22 parishes will also provide livestreamed services that can be accessed via Facebook, YouTube, or on the parish’s website.
Viewers can expect significant adaptations to some of the liturgies.
“On Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet will be omitted,” Dcn. Warner continued. “That’s an optional part of the Mass and Rome said it should be omitted because of the lack of a congregation.”
Traditionally, at the conclusion of the Holy Thursday service, the priest leads a procession to an Altar of Repose for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Because no one is present for Adoration, the Blessed Sacrament is placed back in the tabernacle after Mass.
This year, no catechumens or candidates will be baptized or received into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. The bishop moved the celebration for those in parish RCIA programs to Pentecost weekend (May 30-31). Blessing of the holy oils at the Chrism Mass is rescheduled to May 28 — the Thursday before Pentecost.
Lighting of the paschal candle is also different. To symbolize “the light of Christ, rising in glory,” parishes customarily build a fire outside the church where the candle is ignited then carried to the altar in a procession. Without a congregation present, the paschal candle will be lit at the beginning of Mass in the sanctuary. Other primary elements of the Easter Vigil — the singing of the Exsultet and the seven Scripture readings at the beginning of the Mass will remain the same.
“I encourage everyone to watch and participate in the livestream liturgies of Holy Week,” Dcn. Warner said. “It’s a unique opportunity to spend time, as a family, in prayer.”
Read and discuss the day’s Scripture passages,” he urged, adding, “enter into that spirit of prayer and fasting that is asked of all of us in Holy Week.”
The rhythm of life may be humdrum right now, but Ali Hoffman is urging her parish families to make Holy Week “intentional.”
“Everything seems so mundane — staying at home, distance learning, not going out — Holy Week can seem just like another week,” the St. Catherine of Siena youth minister pointed out. “But doing things differently — even little things — can set it apart.”
|Gina Bellin, 12, of Neenah, Wis. stands beside her chalk drawing March 31, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. Catechists and ministers across the Diocese of Fort Worth are encouraging parents to include their children in observing Holy Week. (CNS photo/Brad Birkholz)|
Every Good Friday, her household gathers to watch “The Passion of the Christ” — a movie best suited for teenagers and adults. Other films, like the “Song of Bernadette” or “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” are inspiring and communicate the Christian message and significance of the resurrection for all ages.
Formed.org has a wealth of religious movie titles, programs, and audio, Hoffman suggested, and many churches offer free access to it for their parishioners.
The youth minister and her co-worker are compiling resources for parish families to use.
“We want to help parents,” she said. “What we’re teaching is the domestic church. We’re building up the domestic church.”
Three years ago, Genny Sayers’ youngsters were received into the Catholic Church at Holy Family’s Easter Vigil Mass. This year, they planned to attend the liturgy and witness friends become Catholic. Instead, they will watch the Easter Vigil Mass from home and make cards for the people coming into the Church this Pentecost.
“Easter Sunday we are making alleluia banners and will text photos of them to family, friends, and social media sites,” explained the coordinator of youth ministry at Holy Family Parish. “We are also making box lunches and will deliver them to close family and friends who would normally come to our home for the traditional Easter meal.”
When Callie Nowlin realized the pandemic would prevent her and others from attending Mass and church gatherings, the first thing she did was contact her homebound friends.
“We’re all essentially homebound now, so I wanted to see how they coped,” said the director of religious education at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Abbott and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Penelope. “I hope we all come out of this with a huge appreciation for what it’s like to be homebound.”
|A family watches a livestreamed Palm Sunday Mass in the Diocese of Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)|
To help parents observe Holy Week with their children, Nowlin sent out care packages with coloring sheets, scavenger hunts, and other resources to help youngsters understand liturgies and pray at home. The DRE suggests setting up a prayer table with a special cloth, two candles, a crucifix, or some other religious object before Mass is televised.
“I made mine look intentionally like an altar because I miss it,” she said.
Whether it’s simplifying meals during Holy Week or coloring a picture of the priest’s vestments, it’s important to put the activity in the context of faith for a child.
“We have to relate it to Christ. Otherwise, we’re missing the point,” Nowlin continued. “The challenge of this pandemic is families having to ask themselves, what’s important? My hope and prayer for each and every one of them is that they come to a deeper understanding that He is everything.”
As Holy Week approached, Sharon Perkins, a former catechist in both the Fort Worth and Austin dioceses, placed an image of the Divine Mercy in the front window of her home with good reason.
“People are pretty good at observing Holy Week but not always the Octave of Easter,” she said, referring to the eight-day period that starts on Easter Sunday and ends with Divine Mercy Sunday. “It’s such a special time liturgically.”
A novena to the Divine Mercy begins Good Friday with a different prayer intention designated for each day. Downloadable Divine Mercy coloring pages for youngsters are available at TheCatholicKid.com.
“It’s a great way to extend Easter,” Perkins added. “These days, people want to call upon God and His mercy. The timing of this is really providential.”
Other tips for a holier Holy Week this year: Fast from the news, support church organizations like Catholic Charities, and read Scripture.
“It keeps things in perspective — especially the daily readings,” she promised. “They are so applicable.”
“For all those who suffer the consequences of the pandemic. Look with compassion on the sorrowful condition of your children who suffer because of this pandemic; relieve the pain of the sick; give strength to those who care for them; welcome into your peace those who have died; and, throughout this time of tribulation, grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love.”
— Congregation for Divine Worship
FORT WORTH — For the first time in modern memory, Catholics around the world will observe Holy Week and celebrate Easter Sunday in a different way.