Holy Week and Easter 2020 is one for the books—both in terms of being once more a celebration of the Paschal Mystery—but also because the COVID-19 pandemic prevented many from meeting the Lord in person, in the real presence of the Eucharist. Despite the forced fasting from the Eucharist, however, the Church still shows the way to Christ. St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, long ago seemed to have anticipated times such as these in one of his sermons. Although he was speaking more generally about the importance of the family as a source of formation in the faith, his words take on special meaning today. Thus, for Holy Week and Easter 2020, parents were encouraged to lead their households to Christ through their own observances—with the help of live-streaming Masses or other media outlets, and by looking to the liturgical texts and traditional devotions to join their prayers with the Church around the world.
In one of St. Augustine’s sermons, the great Church father reminds his congregation that while the bishops (and by extension, priests) have holy charge of the liturgy and teachings of the Church, parents—and especially fathers—provide that same service within their households.
“But do not think that this office of putting out to use does not belong to you also,” he says, addressing the laity. “You cannot execute it indeed from this elevated seat, but you can wherever ye chance to be” (Sermon 24 on the New Testament).
“Discharge our office in your own houses,” he continues. “A bishop is called from hence, because he superintends, because he takes care and attends to others. To every man then, if he is the head of his own house, ought the office of the Episcopate to belong, to take care how his household believe, that none of them fall into heresy….”
More than a thousand years later, this same teaching remains as true as ever—and as the current circumstances have made clear, many parents are taking on the work of the liturgy “wherever” they “chance to be”—most often in their own homes, since restrictions have prohibited public celebrations of the Eucharist, especially during Holy Week and Easter.
Likewise, priests find themselves without a congregation, and yet, as St. Thomas Aquinas notes, the priest is meant to celebrate the Mass not as a matter of public service, as important as the sacraments are for individual holiness of the members of the Mystical body, but as what is due to God in justice and charity.
St. Thomas writes, “the opportunity of offering sacrifice is considered not merely in relation to the faithful of Christ to whom the sacraments must be administered, but chiefly with regard to God to Whom the sacrifice of this sacrament is offered by consecrating” (Summa Theologiae, III,82.10).
So priests celebrated the Paschal Triduum this year, mostly without a congregation—but they did not celebrate alone. With God as their goal and the universal Church, albeit remotely, as their fellow participants, they encountered the risen Christ in the same way that the Church has done throughout its history—even if this extraordinary encounter took place under extra-extraordinary circumstances.
To find out more about this year’s celebration of Holy Week and Easter, Adoremus Bulletin asked an array of priests and families around the country one question:
“How did you and your family experience the Triduum and Easter liturgical celebrations this year, during the pandemic?”
The responses were as varied as they were rich in reflection. They also demonstrated that—as the old saying goes, “The show must go on!”—the liturgy must go on among the priests of the world and among the families of the world, despite being separated from one another. Indeed, especially for families, unable to receive the Eucharist, during this “time of COVID-19,” the home became a source of joy and an opportunity to explore the riches of the Catholic liturgy, discharging to the best of their abilities this work in their particular iteration of the domestic Church.
Food to Die For
Monsignor Timothy Thorburn
Chaplain, The Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
Serving as chaplain for 29 cloistered nuns, I was blessed, as in years past, to celebrate the Sacred Triduum and Easter with the traditional solemn chants of the Church, done well. This tends to place one outside of present normalities, even the coronavirus. I’m likely the envy of many priests who have had to celebrate these liturgies with no congregation and only a few servers (although I did have to deal with the latter restrictions). Usually being blessed with the services of a deacon, subdeacon, and an army of seminarian-servers, I celebrated with just one seminarian and two local servers.
Under these circumstances, I had to learn quickly to chant many parts of these ceremonies normally done so by the deacon and subdeacon. Yet that has been a blessing to me and, the nuns tell me, to them. I am certain that I am causing untold anguish to Latinists and liturgists in Purgatory (who will likely enter heaven more speedily because of these sufferings), yet recent regulations have brought an entirely new perspective to the worship of God.
This is the first time in my 66 years that I have had to labor under any external restrictions to worship. What was it like in England during those hundreds of years when celebrating Mass was forbidden and punishable by being hung, drawn, and quartered? What is it like today for priests and the faithful to celebrate the sacraments in certain places in the world where they could be beheaded for doing so? I cannot now say that I know, but all of us now have a wee insight into that reality. More so, I have a better insight to the reason martyrs of all centuries have been willing to die for the Mass: They love Jesus, they want to obey His command to “Do this in memory of me,” they want to receive Him in Holy Communion—Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity—even if they might die for it.
They want to go to heaven more than anything…and more than most of us do. Maybe our longing to be with Him for all eternity will be a grace we receive, even as many of us (myself included) whiningly endure these present days.
Tempted to Steal Our Lord
Father of 12 children
San Diego Reader
San Diego, CA
I am one of the lucky ones. I’m a cantor at Our Lady of the Rosary in San Diego’s Little Italy. When my pastor decided to live-stream Sunday Masses on Facebook, he asked me to sing for them, and he asked my wife, Mary, to accompany me on the piano. We attended Mass and received Holy Communion on the last two Sundays of Lent, at the Easter Vigil, and on Easter morning. I’ve felt something akin to survivor’s guilt over this, especially because our 12 children have not been able to attend Mass and receive Communion. Mary says she’s felt the same way.
Guilt, even unearned survivor’s guilt, is a blessing when it spurs the guilty to corrective action. In my case, it spurred me to offer my Communion for my children. It’s something I’ve done before, but this Easter I offered my Communion for the good of my children with a fervor that is foreign to me. Foreign, but not unwelcome.
On Easter Sunday, I received in the hand—also foreign to me, but temporarily mandated. Before lifting our Lord to my mouth, I stared down at the Panis Angelicus and was tempted to put it in my dress shirt pocket to bring home to my children. I fancied it a sort of noble naughtiness born of paternal righteousness. But Grace rescued me from that prideful silliness. I placed our Lord on my tongue and offered my Communion for the 12 children watching it all at home.
Father of six children
Founder of Real Life Catholic
Greenwood Village, CO
Strangely, this was among the most blessed celebrations of the Triduum I’ve ever had.
At first, I mourned that this is nothing like Easter should be, but then a friend pointed out to me that this is exactly as Easter was for the first followers of Christ. Hiding out, for fear of death.
The best news mankind would ever receive didn’t come at a party, but in the midst of our misery. That didn’t change their circumstances, but it did change them, and it changes us today.
For Easter Vigil, the Stefanick family lit a fire, prayed the Exultet, and read all the vigil readings as a family. Then we renewed our baptismal promises. It was incredibly powerful for us.
I love the sacraments. One of the great things about being a Catholic is that they “do the job for you.” You sit down on the ride and you’re off! And that’s a gift from God.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the ease can produce spiritual laziness if we’re not careful.
How many times have I overlooked the urgent need for perfect contrition and just thought “I’ll deal with that sin in confession next Saturday”?
How many times have I reduced my own role as spiritual leader of my family to “I’ll get the kids dressed for Mass and out the door on time”?
Don’t get me wrong: God wants me to do those things. But he wants more. He wants my kids to see me fulfill my priestly role as a father. And he wants my heart to be his. The absence of the sacraments has forced a more intentional focus on both, one that will make our return to the pew all the more powerful—when it happens!
Start of a Tradition
Jeanette De Melo
Mother of three children
Editor in Chief
National Catholic Register
We have had a home altar set with a linen cloth, Crucifix, candles and children’s statues of Mary and the Saints since the first Sunday we were unable to attend Mass. My boys are young, 6 and 3 years old, and 18 months, so we entered into Jesus’ passion with many tangible reminders and lots of board books that told the story as well as some video cartoons. On Palm Sunday, we cut palms branches from palm trees in our yard and sang Hosanna. Then we noticed during our walks throughout the week all the various sized palm branches in other peoples’ yards and imagined how we could praise Jesus with those very large palm branches.
On Holy Thursday, we washed each other’s feet outside before we watched the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. The boys found branches in the yard and whittled notches into them with their father to make crosses. On Good Friday, we went to the property of some sisters who have an outdoor Stations of the Cross in the woods. The boys carried their own crosses on the way and the three year old led the Our Father at each station. Then at the end we said the Divine Mercy chaplet at a life-sized Crucifix and we venerated it as we sang “Behold the Wood of the Cross.”
On Easter Sunday, our participation in the Mass included the ringing of bells during all the alleluias. Our prayers have been simple, matching the short attention spans of young children, but these moments have been profound. My husband and I hunger for our Lord in the Eucharist but we are cherishing the opportunity to bring the liturgy into our home. We have really understood well the meaning of the domestic Church. I think what we have done to celebrate the Lord’s Passion last week will become tradition for a long time in our household.
Reality Deeper Than Circumstances
Father Ryan Rojo
St. Ann Parish, Midland
Diocese of San Angelo, TX
For me, the deepest significance of the Triduum is something independent of the current pandemic. The realities we celebrate are present in the lives and hearts of believers by virtue of their baptism, and nothing can take that away. I was moved by the many families in my parish who were intentional in bringing these mysteries home for their children with the use of blessed candles from Candlemas, the scriptures, and other crafts that accompanied these holy days. This pandemic has truly forced serious Catholics to be the domestic Church.
That being said, I think the inability to gather as the Body of Christ does reflect the less-than-ideal experience of the Church. Sacrosanctum Concilium relates liturgy to the sanctification of men and women, but this end is most difficult when men and women are forced to experience Mass at home through a live-stream service. Spiritual communions are wonderful tools in the spiritual arsenal of the Church, but even the most orthodox believer would admit that the Eucharist is the truest participation in the divine life.
The stripped-down rites, while practically necessary, also robbed the Body of Christ of powerful signs and symbols associated with the Easter Season. I also mourn for those who were looking forward to their own reception into the Church at the Easter Vigil. For this reason, I think we have a lot to mourn with Triduum 2020, and I think we all definitely look forward to liturgical normalcy.
You Had to Be There
Father of seven children
We streamed the Mass of the Lord’s Supper via St. Cecilia’s Cathedral on Thursday because our parish feed wasn’t working immediately, and we streamed Good Friday and the Easter Vigil from our parish. On Sunday, our parish had Easter water that we could pick up throughout the day; the same as with blessed palms last week. We’re appreciative of all the people doing whatever they can to bring us some access to the liturgy.
That said, it’s not the same as being there physically, which is a double blow given that the Triduum seems the most physical of all the Church’s liturgies. It’s hard to capture sacramentality over video. Even seeing the rites modified was hard. I think it’s helped to pray as much of the Liturgy of the Hours as possible to stay cognizant of the season. I would also say the devotional life for a lot of those around us has really ticked up during these weeks, and I hope that remains when the pandemic is over. I’ve really seen our pastor engaging with people in every way he can; and in many ways, I feel like the reach to the fallen away has gotten better. I think some of the things we’ve started to do now have the potential to carry forward and expand the reach of our parish.
When we reached the point where every Catholic parish in America shut down, I kept going back to the line, “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). Even though we’ve lost the ability to go to Mass, I’ve been encouraged by people still carrying on the faith, and in many ways, carrying it on more intently. I hope that practice translates when we get back to the habits we’re used to.
Makeshift Iconostasis in Cowboy Country
Father of eight children
Wyoming Catholic College
My wife Virginia, my 32-year-old Down syndrome daughter Julia, and I have had an unusually prayerful Lent. In addition to our private devotions and meditations, we have been saying the Divine Mercy chaplet every afternoon as well as the Rosary in the evenings, and on Sundays we have been using the Magnificat offerings for the Liturgy of the Word. Many people have apparently been live-streaming Masses, but we have been unable to do so, because our internet service out in the Lander foothills is “unstable” (to use the euphemism of choice).
Instead, we set up a beautiful 19th-century Russian icon given to us some years ago, light a candle, and divide the readings among us. On Holy Thursday night, Virginia and I did the readings about the Passover and Jesus’ washing of the feet of the Apostles, after which (in an old family ritual that used to include all eight of our children), I washed Virginia’s and Julia’s feet. On Good Friday, we kept Great Silence from noon until 3pm—another old family custom—after which we began the Divine Mercy novena and then went outside for the Magnificat readings, which of course included the Passion according to John and the beautiful intercessions.
At the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, with its great overview of salvation history from the first words of Genesis through the Resurrection of Our Lord, Julia read one of the passages from Isaiah and one of the Psalms; the next morning, she also read the Psalms for Easter Day. It was a most unusual Triduum, but also one in which we felt particularly undistracted and focused on the meaning of Christ’s death and Resurrection. We missed the sacraments, of course, but we also felt united to the community through prayer and silence.
Wait Until Father Gets Home
Mother of ten children
Although we were crushed that we could not celebrate the Triduum at church, participating fully in the most beautiful and meaningful rituals of the liturgical year, my family and I did our best to observe the services at home. On Holy Thursday evening, we watched a live-stream of the traditional Latin Mass of the Lord’s Supper. We sat or knelt in the living room together, following along in our missals. We made an altar of repose of sorts, lighting candles and displaying flowers under the Crucifix and images of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts that hang above our mantle. On Good Friday, starting at noon, we attempted to maintain a reverent silence (as reverent and as silent as one can be with littles in the house), and once again observed the traditional Good Friday service on television live-streaming from our local parish.
At each service we observed, we made a spiritual communion. Our intention was to watch the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday evening, but my husband was working overnight, and as the time approached, we changed our minds. We had talked about it quite a bit, and decided that, although none of what we had been doing over Holy Week was the same, watching the Vigil on television would have been too hard and too far removed from the usual way of doing things. Instead, we waited for my husband to come home from work and watched Easter Sunday Mass together in the morning. We all dressed up as usual and, after Mass, celebrated with a big family brunch and Easter baskets.
To Receive You Under My Roof
Father of seven children
The San Diego Reader
San Diego, CA
In something like the manner that there are sacraments and sacramentals, there are, in our house, liturgies and liturgicals. We were liturgy-poor this Triduum, but we did okay with the liturgicals. On Holy Thursday, we watched Bishop Robert Barron’s YouTube Mass on the big TV in the family room.
Liturgically, it was a bare minimum sort of affair—which seemed appropriate, since there was no confusing the image with the Presence—but the preaching was very fine and came through the screen mostly unscathed: Christ washing the disciples feet and so exploding the rotten old master-slave dynamic that has made the rotten world go ‘round since forever. And it was good to stand and sit and kneel as one would at a proper Mass; we are bodied beings, after all. Afterwards, we sang the Pange Lingua; I had printed copies of the lyrics, and my brother did a quick mark-up to indicate which syllables got two or three notes.
On Good Friday, I missed Stations of the Cross with the family; my wife Deirdre has found this adorable set of stations, about an inch and a half high, that she arranges around the table. There are 13 of us sheltering in place, so it just about works out for everyone to take one. Some of us said the Divine Mercy chaplet at 3 pm. At dinner, my oldest son said he’d been thinking about how appropriate it was that Jesus came to earth and died when he did, since Roman civilization offered a masterful mix of technological advancement and old-school brutality, as manifested in the crucifixion.
That got my brother talking about how the Pax Romana created a space where Jesus’ death might be noticed amid the general violence of the world, and that led to an exploration of the Church Fathers and their love for fittingness in discussing the crucifixion: such a public death, so humiliating, arms outstretched to the world, etc. Not quite a homily, but still an unpacking of the Word. That night, we had a mandatory viewing, at my mother’s request, of Ricardo Montalban’s Fatima documentary, and an optional viewing, at my wife’s request, of Mel Gibson’s Passion movie, the latter of which my brother refers to as a moving icon: something to contemplate, as opposed to simply watch.
Afterwards, as usual, we gathered in the living room, perfumed a strip of muslin, wrapped it around a small plastic corpus, placed the corpus in a papier mache tomb, placed a stone at the entrance, and processed around the darkened house with candles, singing “Were You There” and “Jesus, Remember Me.” (And as usual, there was the midnight run to In-n-Out Burger to celebrate the arrival of Holy Saturday and the harrowing of hell.) On Holy Saturday, we lit the Easter Candle at dinner (“It’s the Vigil somewhere!”) and read the first reading from Genesis 1 aloud. My poor mother was hoping the beauty of it would strike folks; instead, we got into it about evolution and multiverses. Finally, on Easter Sunday, we gathered for a Zoom meeting Mass celebrated by my cousin who works for the Roman curia. The only downside, besides our inability to receive the Eucharist, was that he had an attendee read the Sequence instead of singing it.
A Call to Connect with the Heartsore
Father Daniel Cardó
Holy Name Parish, Denver, CO
Professor of Liturgy
St. John Vianney Seminary, Denver
Just a few weeks ago the idea of not being able to attend the celebrations of Holy Week was unthinkable. There has been a real pain in the hearts of so many parishioners who mourn because they cannot participate directly in the Eucharist and were not able to come to their church for the Paschal Triduum.
It is precisely there that we tried to connect, hoping to help everyone to go where the Lord was calling us. It has been a sacrifice, for all of us, in different ways, and it seems that this is key: to be able to offer a sacrifice of the heart. We promoted this idea through letters, talks, and homilies. We tried to show that the Church has flourished in times and places where there were no priests and sacraments; that God’s grace is not bound by the sacraments He has instituted as the normal channels of grace; that our longing and love for the Eucharist have to grow during this time.
We have been live-streaming our liturgies, celebrated as solemnly as if the church was full, for they were done firstly for God, and this has been a source of comfort. But we have also tried to promote other liturgical and spiritual activities that could be done (and not only watched) at home, most especially the Liturgy of the Hours, offering the necessary resources.
I have received messages of parishioners truly grateful for a surprisingly fruitful experience of Easter, in which they have experienced the Lord’s closeness even more than some other years.
Desperate Desire for the Real
Geoffrey and Ruth Stricklin
Founders of New Jerusalem Studios
In a Lent and Easter, cast over by this pandemic, I’m certain that my wife, Ruth, and I are not alone in our experience of various awakenings. Subject as we all are to an invader so contagious, we’ve never been more aware of our connection and dependence upon each other as a human family. We all necessarily, by the power of a spreadable and deadly illness, are called out of the isolation of self-absorption and independence. How we take care of ourselves or not, will have a direct impact on others, today, tomorrow, the next day. In public, people seem to have a new regard for one another. We look at each other with sympathy. We make room for each other. A true sense of a common foe has developed, and also, a common path to life and health.
In our home, we’ve been awakened to a more natural rhythm of life. With the frenetic pace driven by all the “important” things we have to do forcibly brought low, a slower pace has emerged. Ruth and I cook and eat together, virtually every meal. We garden in the mornings and visit our plants in the evening. We remark upon the rising of the sun and moon. We walk. We talk. We sit. We relish the springtime, the bugs, the bees, the birdsong.
And we pray. The whole biblical narrative is one of our longing to see God face to face, to be in his presence, to know that he is with us and that we are not abandoned. Today in the Church, we make much of Christ’s real presence, but perhaps we take him for granted. In this time of “distancing” we can’t attend Mass with a congregation. It has been remarkable to experience our desire for the presence of God, seeking every possible digital opportunity: a Rosary with our local parish schola, Adoration with the Holy Father, a Novena to the Sacred Heart with Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Mass with Bishop Robert Barron, a viewing of the Holy Shroud of Turin. Words, images, sound, time—all the sensible things seem more valuable toward uniting us in the presence of God.
We are desperate for the real. Our parish priest brought the Eucharist in a monstrance to the neighborhoods. We flocked to Him. A real ora et labora has emerged in our lives. We cherish it. And in noticing our need, our cherishing, we wonder how we can hold onto these essential things. In this trail God is teaching us a lesson, something sacred that we can keep—and that will change us if we let it.
Mother of three children
Coordinator of Student Services
Liturgical Institute-University of St. Mary of the Lake
Easter Monday is always a strange day—the sanctuary is quiet, the smell of incense hangs in the air, the months of planning and praying and preparing for the Triduum are behind us. This year, Easter Monday felt even stranger.
Being at home for a month of Lent, stunned by the cancellation of the public celebration of Mass (and then of Triduum and Easter), left the five of us wandering around the house trying to be prayerful and to plan our own Holy Week while getting on each other’s last nerves. I know we weren’t the only ones facing this challenge.
There were almost too many choices for online community prayer—Rosaries, Novenas, the Chaplet, Lauds and Vespers, and the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum—with our own pastor, with Bishop Robert Barron, with Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, or at the National Basilica—even with Pope Francis! The liturgies ranged from very low key, with nothing but the priest and the altar, to liturgies complete with physically distancing choirs and plenty of smoke (the incense is hanging sweetly in some churches this morning!).
We prayed as a family to prepare ourselves for the sacred days and found ourselves united in befuddlement over who to watch and when as we navigated conflicting time zones, personal liturgical preferences, and the attention-span needs of a variety of ages.
Palm Sunday was attended on Zoom with a friend who is a priest. We kept our microphone and video off, but the less technically savvy “parishioners” were audible over much of the Mass as we watched them leaning in and adjusting their computers repeatedly and enjoyed the group chat rapidly creating new doctrine for online Mass etiquette! Still, we arranged the chairs around our makeshift altar with a crucifix, a statue of Mary and a candle flickering by the computer screen. Oh, and a portable speaker for a clearer broadcast. Just like the Cathedral, right?
We were late to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. It was only a few minutes, but I think we missed the hymn “Lift High the Cross,” which is my favorite. Computer error or user error? I’m still not certain. Regardless, the Mass was beautiful. We missed seeing the washing of the feet and the end seemed abrupt as there was no procession to the Altar of Repose—the Eucharist was returned to the tabernacle and the video feed ended.
On Good Friday, we overdid it a bit, I think. We began with Morning Prayer and went straight to the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (televised from the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles). It sounded like a good idea to join the bishops in national prayer…, and we received a plenary indulgence for our trouble. We planned to live-stream the Passion of the Lord at 1pm, but realized that I calculated the time change backward, so it wasn’t going to be streamed until 5pm. Sigh. Ok. So, instead we watched the movie The Passion of the Christ and then attended the Passion of the Lord! Strange? A little. Too secular? Maybe. Forgivable under the circumstances? Christ is merciful.
Holy Saturday was mostly a waiting game. It was quiet, but not as prayerful as it could and should have been. We began preparations for the Easter feast, played games, and talked to family. Sadly, it was like most Saturdays.
He is risen! Alleluia! Easter Sunday arrived on time and as expected! Triduum was behind us once again, though not a perfect showing, and we were ready to celebrate. We wanted music and singing and incense and everything we’ve felt deprived of over the last several weeks. Making a spiritual communion each week rather than experiencing the gift of Christ in the Eucharist has highlighted our hunger for Christ and pointed out how we take for granted the blessing of being able to partake in the feast.
And now it’s Easter Monday. The celebration of Easter continues, but with the quarantine on, it feels like a little bit of Lent remains.
Father Ryan Ruiz
Director of Liturgy and Assistant Professor of Liturgy and Sacraments
The Athenaeum of Ohio/Mount St. Mary’s Seminary of the West
While this year’s Triduum was different, I am grateful for having experienced it in this way. As a priest at a seminary in which, under normal conditions, the seminarians are sent home at the start of Holy Week to assist in their parishes, rare is the chance that I have to organize and help celebrate these most sacred rites of the Church’s year.
However, this year afforded me and the ten priests with whom I live the opportunity to observe the liturgies of the Triduum at our seminary chapel for the first time in many years. Taking full advantage of what is found in the Missal—or as much as this year’s Triduum allowed—we were able to celebrate the commemoration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery with great solemnity, each priest having a particular part to play.
On Good Friday, St. John’s Passion was sung by three confreres in Latin. At the Vigil the Exsultet was chanted by one priest, all nine readings and psalms read by other priests, and the threefold solemn Alleluia intoned by the celebrant. On Easter Sunday, the Victimae paschali laudes was chanted by our accomplished music director, who also had no place else to go, and who likewise guided us through the Missa orbis factor on Holy Thursday, the Reproaches on Good Friday, and the Missa de Angelis at the Vigil and on Easter Sunday. This year was different, but that is the nature of the liturgy, is it not? Something different—something extraordinary.