By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. Last year, Lent began with packed churches on Ash Wednesday on Feb. 26, 2020, but the world quickly changed as the reality of COVID-19 set in when the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, 2020. With churches in the diocese shuttered from March through Pentecost on May 31, many parishes took the dive into sharing Stations, Rosaries and Mass through livestreaming.
As the church enters into Holy Week in 2021, our churches still look a little different with social distancing and mask use in effect, but the celebrations will give all an opportunity to walk with Christ through the crucifixion and into the new life of Easter, whether in person or virtual.
As in 2020, the Holy See issued decrees regarding the celebrations of Holy Week during COVID-19.
Palm Sunday is the final Sunday of Lent, the beginning of Holy Week, and commemorates the triumphant arrival of Christ in Jerusalem, days before he was crucified. While the receiving of palms was restricted last year, this year the faithful may receive palm fronds.
On the Tuesday of Holy Week priests from across the diocese will gather at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle for the Mass of the Oils, also known as the Chrism Mass. Bishop Joseph Kopacz will bless and consecrate the oils which will be used throughout the year for baptisms, anointing of the sick, and confirmations. As in 2020, the Chrism Mass will be closed to the public this year.
The Last Supper, the Mass of the Institution of the Eucharist, is the center of Holy Thursday. Lent officially ends with the beginning of this liturgy, which starts the three most holy of days in the church’s liturgical calendar – the Sacred Triduum. Normally, on Holy Thursday many pastors follow Christ’s example by washing the feet of members of their congregations, a reminder of the gospel call to service. However, as last year, the Holy See’s decree eliminates this optional tradition again in 2021.
Good Friday is the only day of the year when no Mass is celebrated. Catholics gather to hear the passion story, reflect on the Way of the Cross and Christ’s last words before his death. This year, there will be no individual veneration of the Cross by members of the congregation.
On Holy Saturday at “the Solemn Beginning of the Vigil or Lucenarium,” Vatican directives have omitted the preparation and lighting of the fire and the procession into the sanctuary.
Again, while Holy Week will look different, let us celebrate the coming of the Lord and remain viligent for the safety of all from COVID-19. Be sure to check with your individual parish for attendance requirements, as space is limited and many have reservation systems in place in order to maintain the safety of all.