Vatican Decree intended to stop contagion, not prayer

In this interview, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, explains the new Decree regarding the celebration of Easter liturgies during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued a new Decree on Wednesday 25 March, entitled “In time of Covid-19” (II). The document updates the earlier decree of 19 March, and responds to specific questions the Congregation has received regarding Easter liturgical celebrations.

Interview with Archbishop Arthur Roche

In an interview with Vatican Media, the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, explains how, during the coronavirus pandemic “we must try to stop the contagion, without stopping our prayer”. On the contrary, he says, we need to pray more.

Vatican News (VN): Your Excellency, what are the reasons for updating this Decree?

Archbishop Arthur Roche (AR): It’s clear to everyone that we are living at a time of emergency, with rapidly changing situations. Crises of this magnitude sometimes need new adjustments and updates. The first text was issued several days ago. Some important updates became indispensable. Above all, we consulted the Episcopal Conferences of the countries most affected by the pandemic. We tried to take their observations into account.

VN: The date of Easter was not postponed, as some imagined, given the situation in countries affected by Covid-19. Why?

AR: The date of Easter cannot be transferred. We will celebrate it after the preparation of this special time of Lent, marked by such pain, fear, uncertainty. A few weeks ago we received the ashes on our heads. We were reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return. But we are dust that is loved by God, redeemed by God. Jesus suffered on the Cross, but He overcame death and we believe in the resurrection of the body, in eternal life. Easter is the celebration of this victory over death. In countries affected by the disease, where there are restrictions imposed by civil authorities to avoid mass gatherings and movement of people, Bishops and priests will celebrate the rites of Holy Week without the presence of the people and in a suitable place, avoiding concelebration and omitting the sign of peace.

VN: The idea of celebrating Easter without the presence of the faithful, without the People of God, is striking…

AR: It's very painful. However, during this time of isolation, we’ve seen how priests’ creativity has increased. How every day they find ways to be near people with every means currently available. Many people daily follow the Holy Father's Mass from Santa Marta. And they follow other celebrations through social media. Many of the faithful pray the Rosary in link-ups via radio, television or the web. We are living in an exceptional moment. Let’s not forget that Jesus speaks about personal prayer, inviting us to pray in our rooms and therefore in our homes. We know that by its nature the Christian faith is relationship and community: common prayer and common participation at the Eucharistic table is fundamental. But in this moment of trial we must try to stop the contagion, without stopping our prayer. On the contrary, we need to pray more. It’s important the faithful be informed about the time the celebrations begin, so they can join in prayer in their homes and follow the celebrations live, participating in them like that.

VN: Could you explain briefly the content of the updated decree?

AR: Palm Sunday will be celebrated inside churches, without the procession outside. The Chrism Mass, which foresees the participation of all the priests of the presbyterate [in the local Church], can be celebrated at another date. This faculty is left up to the Episcopal Conferences, which are called invited to evaluate the different situations in their own countries. There will be no washing of feet during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. In fact, this is already optional, even though it’s a very significant rite. There will be no procession with the Blessed Sacrament at the end of the Mass. The Liturgy of Our Lord’s Passion, on Good Friday, will include special intentions for the sick, the dead, the suffering, people in difficulty. And only the celebrant will perform the traditional kissing of the Cross. The Easter Vigil will be celebrated in Cathedral and parish churches only. We’ve also indicated that expressions of popular piety, and the processions which enrich the days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum, can be transferred to other suitable days, like 14 and 15 September, for example, according to the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop. 

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