Necessary Providences for Celebrating the Holy Week, in the Light of the Threat of Coronavirus to Human Lives
It is so painful for a father (Patriarch, Bishops and Priests) to be a part from his flock (diocese and parish communities), especially that we are preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we must “adapt” our celebrations to suit these exceptional circumstances. Therefore, I would like, to share with our bishops and priests the following instructions regarding the Holy Week liturgical celebrations, which came out consistent with what we have received from the Holy See.
You may know that we won’t be able to celebrate Easter this year, as we used to do annually, due to the rapid and unexpected spread of COVID-19, in Iraq and around the world. In addition to the negative impact of curfew and its “serious“ consequences on health, economy and social life.
We urge everyone to avoid violating government instructions “of each country” regarding ways of protection to prevent infection and the spread of Coronavirus.
During this lent season, we will continue celebrating the mass in our Churches, in spite of the absence of faithful except for the limited number of those who work in it. Most of these masses are shared (live broadcast) through social media. Nevertheless, this might be an opportunity for celebrants to be well-prepared for the mass, so as to address a word of encouragement to people, updating them of how to avoid this pandemic disease; urging them to pray; and keeping up their faith and hope. Furthermore, family can think of doing together something that would be beneficial and to help those in need as well. Celebrants should also educate their people to be aware of being deceived by false interpretations, such as whether Coronavirus is a grace or punishment. In fact, it is neither this nor that, as stated by the apostle James “God tempts no one” (1/13).
Holy Week Celebrations in Churches
- Palm Sunday. Decorate the Church with olive branches, and include “related” hymns in the liturgy, preferably of the 2nd updated anaphora (Theodorus). Church musician can attend, but without choir.
- Holy Thursday. There will be no washing feet of the disciples. The 2nd updated Anaphora (Theodorus) will be celebrated also. Please note that the consecration of “Holy Oils” will be celebrated later, once we get rid of Corona “storm”.
- Good Friday. Bishops and priests with a small number of deacons in each parish may recite “Friday Vespers i.e. ramsha” but sitting a part from each other. In Baghdad, we will use the “Holy Week” booklet in Chaldean and Arabic with short meditations that suit the occasion, focusing on the fact that our world today is undergoing a real “Way of the Cross”, which is at the same time a way of hope. On this day, a large cross can be erected in the middle of the “temple/bema” and after reading the Gospel, the “crucified Jesus” will be placed in a coffin on the altar surrounded by candles and flowers. Please note that there is no need for the procession around the Church or kissing the coffin.
- Holy Saturday. Since there will be no worshipers, the evening mass can be celebrated later than usual “probably around midnight”. At the beginning of the mass, the bishop in the Cathedral declares: Hasha Dain – Christ has risen. Hence, there is no need for the parish priests to do so. The mass is celebrated according to the 2nd updated Anaphora without reading “Malfanotha”. The homily should promote peoples’ hope and imploring God to surpass this crisis, so that our life will be back to normal.
- Easter Sunday. There will be a festive mass in the morning, similar to Sunday mass, in which there is no need to say “Hasha dain” because it was said in the midnight mass. Also, no need to read “Malfanotha”. Not to forget decorating the altar with flowers, candles and coloured eggs.
On all the above celebrations, we rang bells as a sign of our shared hope in combating this “invisible enemy”.
Instructions for Families.
- The most practical way to prevent coronavirus infection, is to stay home and to follow the related government instructions.
- For those who are willing to confess, they must make an appointment with their parish priest, keeping in mind all the necessary precautions.
- Family “Home Church” can participate spiritually in the mass (Holy Week Liturgy) by placing a table (small altar) covered with a white sheet in the living room while they watch “live” through social media, making sure that they are putting the appropriate symbols for each of the following:
- On Palm Sunday, family can chant and hold olive branches decorated with coloured ribbons.
- On Holy Thursday, a last supper photo (icon) can be placed on the table with candles and flowers,
- On Good Friday, a crucified Jesus cross will be placed on the table surrounded by flowers and candles
- On Holy Saturday, a glorified cross (without the body) will be on the table with flowers and candles. Home lights should be off, in the beginning of the mass, until the celebrant declared “Christ is Risen”, it will be lit while the whole family chant: “Christ Has risen from the dead, and by His death, He trampled death and granted eternal life to those in graves”.
Colored eggs can be used for decoration as a symbol of resurrection, hope and joy.
In all the above mentioned, the local bishop has to decide “wisely” what he deems appropriate.
Since Baghdad, is the most affected area, we distributed a sum of $60,000 among our priests of all Baghdad parishes to help those in need.
Let us pray for the sick and health employee (doctors, nurses etc.) and also for whoever is working hard to protect people’s life.
I wish you a blessed Holy Week and a glorious resurrection in health and faith. May God protect you all.
Please stay safe.
† Louis Raphael Card. Sako
Many thanks to Bishop Bawai Soro- Chaldean Diocese in Canada for donating $10,000 and our beloved Chaldean sisters in Baghdad for donating 30 M Iraqi Dinars out of this amount. God bless you all.