Covid-19 and the Celebration of Holy Week & Triduum
Each year the Church invites us to bring the heartaches of our lives, our own personal broken dreams, and moments of sorrow and pain to the Risen Christ. Holy Week allows us to reconnect with and relive the final days of the Savior in order to reinforce our conviction that resurrection always follows death, that victory always crowns our failures.
Holy Week 2020 will be one like never before.
The stark fact is that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, and the Church worldwide is now faced with a drastic change in the way the People of God will come to the liturgical celebrations during this most holy week of the Church year. The Vatican has asked Catholic bishops around the world, both in the Latin rite and the Eastern Catholic Churches, to provide their faithful with resources to support personal and family prayer during Holy Week and at Easter, especially where restrictions prevent them from going to church.
We have already begun to experience the sense of separation that results from "social distancing," quarantine, the closure of Churches and inability to partake of the Eucharist on a daily and weekly basis. Human beings are essentially communal beings, and a dramatic change in lifestyle - as this most certainly is - can bring about a stressful sense of solitude, and a terrifying fear of the unknown. Fear can become a deadly virus, too.
Many of our parishes are adapting - or at least attempting to. To many, this is an awkward and completely new way of expressing faith, especially at this moment when doing so is most important. Parishes are now livestreaming liturgies, offering video conferencing, shared prayer and a host of online materials with which parishioners can keep in touch with one another and place themselves in the presence of God.
The world today is indeed in the anguished grip of suffering and death. What many find unbearable is, in fact, the condition of substantial defenselessness in which we have found ourselves overnight. How do we maintain a true sense of community in the midst of separation? Do we as Christians, have anything to say about suffering? Do we have a word to say about death?
Yes we do - and we hold onto it because we have received this word from Christ, who is the only one able to speak it - because he is the only one who knows what death is, having undergone and defeated it.
That word is "hope" - hope in the knowledge that for God to touch us, we have to allow suffering and death to wound us.
Pope Francis did an extraordinary thing on March 27. To speak to our fears, he presided at a special prayer service and gave his Urbi et Orbi blessing - with the faithful participating online from the safety of their homes. St. Peter's Basilica was empty like never before, yet millions of people - Catholic and non-Catholic alike - viewed the hour-long service of prayer and worship, livestreamed via their computers, phones or tablets. They listened as Francis proclaimed that the virus outbreak, which comes now, during this penitential season of Lent, is an opportunity for humanity to re-prioritize and to collectively choose that which really matters. This was a prayerful message of hope - and it is Francis' response to the suffering of so many people throughout the world at this moment.
As disciples of Christ, it must be our response as well.
We come to Holy Week this year in a totally different way. This Holy Week we’re remembering with gratitude that Jesus is a presence with us in this moment, and that he is a promise for our future. But now we are also face to face with the reality that the Lord is not restricted by physical buildings or by even the sacraments themselves. Likewise, we must understand that while the Eucharist may be one of the most personal ways to encounter and experience Christ, it is only one of the many ways in which we are surrounded by his embrace. These encounters become teachable moments for us which unveil an unseen reality; one that can only be grasped in ultimate love: that we all belong to God, and to each other and that division and separation make up the ultimate delusion.
This truth remains: We are the Lord’s. This is all that is essential to know in order to live, and to die, and to rise; and the virus that scares us so much does not negate this at all, but rather makes more visible the literal truth of this statement, which is the core of the whole Christian life.
As we walk with Jesus through the events of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we recoil again at the ugliness and horror of his rejection, betrayal, condemnation, passion and crucifixion. We study His courage, His struggle to bend His will to the Father's. We understand His agonizing sense of abandonment. We feel His hurt at the treachery of His friends, and ultimately His trusting embrace of the Cross - and the shameful death it promised.
This year, we can truly and more deeply experience the Suffering Christ like never before - knowing that the love and power of God will sustain us and carry us through this time of suffering to the triumph of Resurrection and New Life.