Observing Holy Week during the coronavirus pandemic

Despite the daunting situation we find ourselves in, we should still make every effort to honor Our Savior during these hallowed days and to bolster the faith of our families.

Detail of Crucifix (1272) by Cimabue [WikiArt.org]

Gazing out upon my empty parish church these past weeks has reminded me of the lamentations of the Israelites during their exile in Babylon. When thinking of their home in the holy city of Jerusalem they bemoaned:

How lonely sits the city…that was full of people!…The roads to Zion mourn, for none come to the appointed feasts; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan… (Lamentations 1:1;4).

The Church is echoing the concern of the world over the spread of the coronavirus with an unprecedented suspension of public Masses across the globe. This astonishing reality will stretch through Holy Week, preventing the faithful from taking part in the most solemn and sacred rites of the liturgical year in the usual ways.

Despite the daunting situation we find ourselves in, we should still make every effort to honor Our Savior during these hallowed days and to bolster the faith of our families.

Mindful of the various and challenging situations faced by readers (many who cannot leave their homes), as well as the fact that there are many opportunities to live-stream Masses and services, here is a simple and sort of bare minimum day-by-day guide on how Holy Week can be observed from home. (Homilies for this week can also be found on the Homiletic & Pastoral Review site.) I provide a day-by-day biblical chronology of Holy Week as well as Scripture readings and prayers that can be done each day. The chronology follows St. Mark’s Gospel and is taken from this previous article of mine that is a biblical chronology and liturgical guide to Holy Week.

Monday of Holy Week, April 6th

After spending the night in Bethany Jesus sets out for Jerusalem early in the morning. The Gospel tells us He was hungry, and from this we can surmise Jesus was fasting; we all should be fasting during these final days of Lent. On account of His hunger the Lord approaches a fig tree on His way to the city. The tree bears only leaves but no fruit, and Jesus proceeds to curse it. The fig tree represents the spiritual deadness of Israel, who while very religious outwardly with all the sacrifices and ceremonies, was spiritually barren because of sin and the obstinate rejection of the Messiah during the course of His earthly ministry among them. By cursing the fig tree, causing it to whither and die, Jesus was pronouncing His coming judgment. The Old Testament is now passing over to the New Covenant.

Jesus enters the Temple courts and drives out the money changers in righteous anger: “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers” (Luke 19:46).

In these closing days of Lent, we ought to strive to drive out sin from the temple of our souls by fasting and going to confession.

Pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary and read Mark 11:12-19.

Tuesday of Holy Week, April 7th

After spending the night again in Bethany, Jesus and His disciples return to Jerusalem in the morning. On their way, they saw the same fig tree Jesus cursed the day prior, withered from the roots. Jesus enters the Temple courts and teaches. He is questioned by the priests and scribes and debates them openly; they have already rejected Him in their hearts. “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Luke 20:46-47).

Jesus leaves the Temple and goes to the Mount of Olives and offers a discourse of teaching to His disciples on the destruction of Jerusalem and His Second Coming.

Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and read Mark 11:20-13:37.

Spy Wednesday, April 8th

In the morning at Bethany, Jesus is anointed by a woman with pure nard, an expensive perfume. Judas objects to what he deems as wasteful spending of money that would have been better utilized in support of the poor. Judas said this not because he cared for the poor, but because he was a thief and wanted to keep the money for himself. Jesus rebukes him along with the other disciples who object: “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8).

Spies had already been lurking around the Temple questioning people about Jesus’ whereabouts after He finished his preaching each day earlier in the week. So far, they had gained little information for the priests plotting against the Lord.

The chief priests meet this day in one of the rooms adjoining the Temple, for the purpose of deliberating on the best means of putting Jesus to death. Just at the close of their deliberations, they are told that one of Jesus’ disciples seeks admission. It is Judas, who left the Lord’s company back in Bethany. They admit him, and he says to them: “What will you give me if I deliver Him to you?” (Matthew 26:15). They are delighted at this proposition and offer him thirty pieces of silver; the outrageous deal is made.

Pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary and read Mark 14:1-11.

The Easter Triduum

The celebration of the Easter Triduum marks the end of Lent. Although the Easter Triduum is three days chronologically, it is a single liturgical day that unfolds the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. It usually includes the three most important liturgical celebrations of the year: the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on the evening of Holy Thursday, the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday at three o’clock in the afternoon, and finally, the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord beginning at the Easter Vigil after sunset on Holy Saturday.

Holy Thursday, April 9th

The principal event commemorated today is the Last Supper when the Lord instituted both the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood. Afterwards He and the Apostles go to the Garden of Gethsemane to spend the night. Jesus prays in agony before He is arrested.

If your parish church is open, it is important to try to take the time to pray before the tabernacle on this day when the Holy Eucharist was instituted. Make a fervent act of spiritual communion to show your love and desire to be in union with our Eucharistic Lord. Can we stay awake and be one hour with Him in prayer before the tabernacle, unlike His apostles? Pray the Luminous Mysteries and offer the Fifth Mystery which is “The Institution of the Holy Eucharist” with particle focus. Today is the day the priesthood was instituted so offer this last decade for an increase in vocations and for your priests. Read the account of the Last Supper: Luke 22:7-39 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-2 as well as the Agony in the Garden: Matthew 26:30-56.

Good Friday, April 10th

This is Christendom’s great day of mourning. Today the true paschal Lamb, Jesus the Christ, is slain. It was no accident that Jesus offered Himself in sacrifice at the very time of the Jewish Passover. At twelve noon He is nailed to the Cross and at three o’clock, when paschal lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple, He breathed His last.

Have a somber spirit today. Avoid television and like pleasures. By law, we must abstain from meat and fast. Pray the Stations of the Cross (in your parish church if possible). In your home place a crucifix in a place of honor and before it read the Passion according to John as is always read at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on this day: verses 18:1-19:42. Pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary and make a fervent act of contrition showing remorse for your sins and gratitude to Jesus for all He endured to redeem you from them. Close this this time of prayer by venerating the crucifix with a kiss as would be done at today’s liturgy.

Holy Saturday, April 11th

A day as sacred as the day of the Lord’s rest; it has been called the “Second Sabbath” after creation. The day is and should be the most calm and quiet day of the entire Church year. Christ rests in the sleep of death within the sealed tomb. His soul descends into “hell” that is, the “limbo of the just”, where the souls of all the holy men who had died before Him had to wait until the Lord’s victory on the Cross opened the gates of Heaven to mankind which had been closed by the sin of Adam. Christ liberates the souls of the just and leads them at last, to eternal blessedness.

As yesterday, have a somber spirit. Today should be quiet. Television and other like pleasures should be avoided. When the sun sets, the fast can be broken and Easter can be celebrated with a big dinner. Before the meal, consider what would have taken place during the Easter Vigil, what St. Augustine called the “mother of all vigils”. The Easter Vigil is the greatest and most noble of all masses. It is the turning point of the Triduum, the Passover of the New Covenant, which marks Christ’s passage from death to life. The readings at the Easter Vigil review the course of Salvation History. Read some of them: The Creation—Genesis 1:1-2:2; The Exodus—Exodus 14:15-15:1; The Prophecy—Ezekiel 36:16-28; The Resurrection—Matthew 28:1-10. Pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

Be mindful that catechumens were supposed to enter the Church through baptism at the Easter Vigil. Remember these candidates in your Rosary and give particular focus to the recitation of the Creed as a renewal of your own faith.

Easter Sunday 

The Christian heart rejoices in Christ’s Resurrection. “…he has risen, as he said…” (Matthew 28:6b), alleluia! Today, Easter, the Incarnate Son of God has finished His redemptive work. He has conquered sin and its ultimate consequence of death. The sins of the world which put Him on the Cross could not bind Him. He is victorious and the merits of His victory are applied to all His followers which He can now claim as His own. Mankind has been redeemed.

In normal circumstances we would be required to go to church for Mass on Easter Sunday. If your parish church is open, make a visit to Our Lord in the Tabernacle if you are able. Read John 20:1-9 and pray the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Enjoy the day with family, if possible, and feast together over a good meal.

May the above guide provide some consolation as you unfortunately must miss the most solemn and sacred liturgies usually offered during this time. Let us not be too disheartened without them. This trial is a kind of “long Lent” for us. It too shall pass and Easter Victory will come!

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About Father Seán Connolly 62 Articles
Father Seán Connolly is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. Ordained in 2015, he has an undergraduate degree in the Classics from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts as well as a Bachelor of Sacred Theology, Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Theology from Saint Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York. In addition to his parochial duties, he writes for The Catholic World Report, The National Catholic Register and The Wanderer.

1 Comment

  1. Dr. Brant Pitre has a video presentation titled “The Jewish Roots of Holy Week: The 7 Last Days of Jesus” where he brings up many interesting points about Holy Week. He said that it is Jewish Tradition that the Tree of Knowledge was a Fig Tree. It was the source of the fig leaves that Adam and Eve used to cover themselves. He said that it is Jewish Tradition that the Tree of Life was the Olive Tree. The Garden of Gethsemane is located on the Mount of Olives. Gethsemane means oil press. He also says that the Passover lamb is roasted and dressed up in the form of a cross.
    It is my understanding that the money changers were located in the Court of the Gentiles. Perhaps the driving out of the money changers also prefigures Christ making room for the gentiles in the Church.
    Passages in the Bible can have multiple meanings, so this article and Dr. Pitre’s presentations can coexist.

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