COVID-19: A pastor’s perspective: Holy Week Is Going to be Different

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Father David BonnarThirty-six years ago, I was packing my belongings to continue my studies for the priesthood at the North American College in Rome. Before departing for the Eternal City, I remember the rector of our college seminary pulling me aside to offer some advice. He said: “Dave, Rome is going to be different. That is not anything good or bad. It is just different.”

Shortly after I arrived, I came to see that there was so much different, from the climate, to the language, to the food and so much more.

In recent days, as Holy Week has been approaching, I was reminded of this prophetic exchange. Because of the pandemic and all of the restrictions in place, Holy Week is going to be so different. On the surface, this difference appears to be something not good inasmuch as the public engagement of these holy days has been taken away. All of the rituals and traditions that make this traditionally the “week of all weeks” are on hold.

For example, there was no distribution of blessed palms. I remember as a child coming home from Palm Sunday Mass with a palm. Mom would always make sure that there was a blessed palm in our rooms. It remained there for the year. In the first parish that I served in as a priest, the faithful braided palms. Many people transform the branch into a cross.

For the first time in my priesthood, there will be no chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, the feast day of the priesthood. What is more, we priests will be unable to renew our priestly promises in the presence of the bishop. There will be no blessed oils brought back to the parishes that day. I have always enjoyed Holy Thursday because the seeds of my priestly vocation were sown, in part, on that day. I, along with some other youths, would attend that Mass and receive the holy oils.

It is hard to imagine Holy Thursday without the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and the washing of the feet. Any priest who has had the privilege of washing the feet of the faithful knows so well the poignancy of this act. There will be no Eucharistic procession to the altar of repose or quiet meditation in church on this most sacred night.

In many parishes on this night there is a custom of renting a bus for parishioners to participate in a seven church tour whereby they pray in each church. The last church they visit is typically their own. Given that the family is viewed as “the first church,” perhaps families can participate in a seven family tour by identifying six families and praying for them on that night with an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. The seventh family could be one’s own.

How different it will be without the traditional Good Friday service. Imagine not being able to publicly read the Passion or venerate the cross. How sad not to be able to receive holy Communion on this day.

Finally, on Holy Saturday there will not be that fresh aroma of food inside the baskets waiting to be blessed in church. Above all, “the mother of all liturgies,” the Easter Vigil will not be taking place publicly. No fire. No Exsultet. No water. No Litany of Saints. No renewal of baptismal promises. No celebration of baptism or full reception into the Church.

Indeed, this is going to be a very different week. In spite of it all, what will not be different is that Sunday will still be Easter. We remain a people of Easter faith, filled with hope and joy. Has there ever been a time in our lives when we needed Easter more than now?

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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