Later this month, faithful in the Diocese of Syracuse will celebrate their second Holy Week during the coronavirus pandemic. This year, however, with precautions in place, they will have the opportunity to celebrate together and in person.
Holy Week 2020 fell just a month after Central New York communities began canceling events, closing schools and businesses, and directing people to stay home to avoid spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Increasing restrictions followed; Bishop Douglas J. Lucia closed diocesan churches to public Masses on March 16 and New York state instituted stay-at-home and social distancing directives. Holy Week services across the diocese took place in nearly empty churches, livestreamed to parishioners at home via YouTube and social media platforms.
This year, many traditions will be permitted as the faithful celebrate Holy Week in person — provided modifications are made and precautions observed.
Holy Week 2021 protocols issued by Bishop Lucia and the diocesan Office of Liturgy and the RCIA stipulate that “the health and safety protocols and the liturgical directives in the diocesan Instructions for the Celebration of the Sacraments in Time of Pandemic must be observed.” These include practices that have become standard since reduced-capacity public Masses in the diocese resumed May 30: wearing masks, maintaining social distance, sanitizing hands and spaces, using a centrally located receptacle for offerings, and omitting the offertory procession of gifts.
Churches throughout the diocese are permitted to welcome congregations of up to 50% of their capacity, providing social distancing can be maintained.
The liturgies of Holy Week and Easter may be livestreamed but are not to be prerecorded for the purpose of streaming them. Parishes that are not able to livestream the liturgies should direct parishioners to participate in the liturgies over which Bishop Lucia will preside, which will be livestreamed from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (see box).
On Palm Sunday, the blessing and distribution of palms will be permitted; masks are to be worn and hands sanitized when preparing and distributing palms. The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem is to be celebrated. In processions, only “a prudent number of people are to be involved,” such as the priest, ministers, and a representative group of the faithful; masks are to be worn; and social distancing is to be maintained.
Priests of the diocese will gather with Bishop Lucia March 30 to celebrate the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral, however the Mass will not be open to the public. A livestream of the 12 p.m. Mass will be available at youtube.com/syrdio. Blessed oils will be distributed to priests after the Mass.
On Holy Thursday, the Washing of Feet is to be omitted. The Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament to the place of repose will take place. The tradition of visiting churches to pray before the Blessed Sacrament after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper will be permitted. “A space large enough and with ample ventilation must be used to accommodate the faithful who wish to pray before the Blessed Sacrament,” the space must be sanitized as needed, and visitors must sign in, wear masks, and maintain social distancing.
On Good Friday, the Adoration of the Holy Cross will take place. Clergy and lay ministers are to approach the Cross individually for adoration; the faithful are to adore the Cross together from their places. The Cross is to be reverenced by a genuflection or, for those who are physically unable to genuflect, a bow; kissing or touching the Cross is not permitted. A special intention for an end to the pandemic will again be offered as the final intercession (see box).
The Blessing of Food on Holy Saturday will be permitted provided the food is safely sealed. During the Easter Vigil, distributing and lighting candles for all members of the assembly will be permitted; hands are to be sanitized and masks worn when preparing and distributing candles.
Easter Vigil services will include the lighting and Blessing of the Fire. The Sacraments of Initiation for catechumens and/or candidates will be celebrated. The Baptismal Liturgy, the Renewal of Baptismal Promises, and the Rite of Sprinkling will take place according to health and safety protocols.
The complete Instructions for the Celebration of Holy Week 2021 can be found at syracusediocese.org/offices/liturgy.
• Palm Sunday: 5:10 p.m. Vigil (Saturday)
• Holy Thursday: 5:10 p.m.
• Good Friday: 2 p.m.
• Holy Saturday: 8 p.m.
• Easter Sunday: This celebration will be prerecorded and broadcast at 6 a.m. on local television stations: WSYR in Syracuse, WBNG in Binghamton, and WKTV in Utica. Video of the Mass will be available online Sunday morning.
Let us pray, dearly beloved, for a swift end to the coronavirus pandemic that afflicts our world, that our God and Father will heal the sick, strengthen those who care for them, and help us all to persevere in faith.
Prayer in silence.
Then the priest says: Almighty and merciful God, source of all life, health, and healing, look with compassion on our world, brought low by disease; protect us in the midst of the grave challenges that assail us and in your fatherly providence grant recovery to the stricken, strength to those who care for them, and success to those working to eradicate this scourge. Through Christ our Lord. R. Amen.