Sacred Chrism is pictured in this 2016 file photo. The diocese’s Chrism Mass, usually celebrated during Holy Week, will be postponed this year. During the Mass, the oil of the sick and the oil of catechumens are blessed and the sacred Chrism is consecrated, and priests in the diocese renew the promises made at their ordinations. (Sun photo | Chuck Wainwright)


By Katherine Long | Editor, and Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer

The coronavirus pandemic will require far-ranging sacrifices for the Church this Holy Week and Easter. Bishop Douglas J. Lucia is urging Catholics in the Syracuse Diocese to see the unusual circumstances as a way to deepen their faith.

“No Palm Sunday Procession, no Washing of the Feet, no Repository or Night Watch, no Veneration of the Cross, no Easter Fire, no Sacraments of Initiation… you and I might ask ‘what’s left?’” Bishop Lucia writes in his column this week. “And the answer is… the Paschal Mystery in all its starkness and glory! Even without their full repertoire of ceremonies, the liturgies of Holy Week direct you and me to enter into this sacred walk with Jesus in a way reminiscent of the earliest followers of the Way (see Acts 24:14)… the earliest followers of Jesus Christ.”

Bishop Lucia March 30 issued Instructions for the Celebration of Holy Week 2020. The mandates, which follow Vatican, federal, and state guidance, curtail Holy Week and Easter practices in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The dramatic restrictions are the diocese’s response to the global public health crisis that has accelerated in the United States in recent weeks. At least 160,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been reported in the United States by midday Tuesday, and there were more than 3,000 deaths related to the disease. Officials warn that those numbers are likely to increase in the next few weeks. Stay at home orders remain in place across most of the country until at least April 30.

Public Masses have been suspended in the diocese since March 16. Bishop Lucia said at the time he hoped to lift the suspensions by Easter. But with health experts and government officials calling for increased efforts to contain the disease, the bishop has expanded diocesan protocols. Catholic schools are closed, public Masses and most parish activities are canceled, and diocesan staff are working remotely. Bishop Lucia announced on March 20 that public Holy Week celebrations were canceled.

The Holy Week norms “reflect the fact that we are in a difficult time, unable to celebrate these powerful liturgies as they are meant to be celebrated, namely, with the participation of an assembly,” Chancellor Danielle Cummings wrote in a letter accompanying the instructions. “Nevertheless, the celebration of these liturgies will offer our praise to God and bring all of us abundant graces and blessings.”

Pope Francis will also celebrate Holy Week and Easter amid stringent restrictions in Italy. The pope will not include the Chrism Mass, usually celebrated the morning of Holy Thursday, Catholic News Service reported March 27. For the first time in his pontificate, the pope will celebrate the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper in the Vatican.

In the diocese, instructions for Holy Week liturgies dictate that all necessary health precautions be observed. No more than 10 people may be present for the celebrations and no assembly is allowed. Liturgies may not be celebrated outdoors because all public gatherings are prohibited.

The faithful are encouraged to “prayerfully unite themselves” to Holy Week liturgies by participating via internet or television broadcasts or by praying the Liturgy of the Hours. [See Bishop Lucia’s Holy Week schedule below.]

On Palm Sunday, churches will not distribute palms. “In keeping with the current restrictions on the distribution of Holy Communion, the distribution of palms should likewise not take place until public Masses and the distribution of Holy Communion resumes,” the instructions read. “There is little or no control over the spread of the virus, either by passing out the palms to cars driving by or by allowing people to pick them up in the church. More importantly, the distribution of palms should not be presented as a substitute for the sacrament of the Eucharist, from which the faithful must currently abstain.”

The Chrism Mass will be postponed “until public gatherings resume so that the blessing and consecration of the holy oils may be a joyful celebration of the whole Church, particularly for the priests of the diocese who gather as a sign of their unity with the Bishop, their fraternity with one another, and their commitment to the promises they made at ordination.”

On Holy Thursday, the washing of the feet will be omitted, as will the procession with the Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose. “Altars of Repose are not to be set up for private prayer. The faithful are not able to gather publicly as there is little or no control over the formation of crowds on a night when, according to tradition, they are accustomed to visiting churches to continue their adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” the instructions say. “Churches, however, may remain open for private prayer. Again, these occasions are not to become public gatherings.”

On Good Friday, a special intention for an end to the pandemic will be added to the Universal Prayer. Additionally, “adoration of the Cross by kissing it shall be limited solely to the celebrant.” While churches may remain open for private prayer, signs should be posted to instruct that the Cross may be venerated only with a genuflection or a bow.

Easter Vigil services will omit the lighting and Blessing of the Fire. The Sacraments of Initiation for those preparing to come into full communion with the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults will not be celebrated. They may take place when public gatherings resume, within Mass on any Sunday of Easter, on Pentecost (May 31), or on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (June 7).

On Easter Sunday, holy water will not be distributed.

These “unembellished liturgies” are invitations to “strip away a lot of the sentimentality often associated with these days and to see them with the new eyes of faith, hope, and love,” Bishop Lucia writes. “What we celebrate at Easter is not simply new life won for us, but new life won for us at a cost!”

“Yes, Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter will not be the same this year, but maybe that is because you and I are being invited, in the words of the Letter to the Ephesians, to ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light’ (5:14). For me, this is the ultimate grace in this testing time of asking where is God… where is Jesus Christ in my life… and have I placed any other gods before Him?

“Each day this week, I invite you to join me in prayer and on the web as the Paschal Mystery — the living, dying, and rising of Jesus Christ — unfolds before us. May the simplicity of what we do help us to more plainly see the wondrous love Holy Week is all about and the hope it brings to our world even today.”

Holy Week with Bishop Lucia

Bishop Lucia’s Holy Week liturgies will be livestreamed from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception at Recordings will be available to watch any time following the livestreams.

• Palm Sunday: 9:45 a.m.

• Holy Thursday: 5:10 p.m.

• Good Friday: 2 p.m.

• Holy Saturday: 8 p.m.

• Easter Sunday: This celebration has been pre-recorded and will be available online Sunday morning. It will also be broadcast at 6 a.m. on local television stations: WSYR in Syracuse, WBNG in Binghamton, and WKTV in Utica.

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