To all Priests, Religious Communities and
the Faithful of the Diocese of Jerusalem
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Lord give you peace!
The rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the world and in the territories of our diocese has resulted in serious and drastic limitations in our ability to participate in divine worship. Pastoral activities and especially the celebration of the sacraments have been largely suspended for several weeks, including participation in the Eucharistic celebration. As we have already said several times, it is a novelty that we have never experienced before and has challenged us to find new ways and forms for our celebrations. Holy Week will begin in a few days. It is the heart of the liturgical year, and even on this occasion, our chances of celebration will be very limited.
The heart of Holy Week celebrations is obviously in the Holy Sepulcher. Following the restrictions determined by the civil authorities, it is therefore necessary for the celebrations at the Holy Sepulcher to be reduced accordingly, relative to the Corona Virus and in addition to the previously prescribed Status Quo agreements. These added limitations are not pastorally helpful for many of our parishes and religious communities. However, the Triduum celebrations in our most sacred place will not be eliminated in any way, but they cannot be a practical reference for most of the diocese.
For this reason, the Sacred Triduum will be celebrated in Arabic in the Co-Cathedral of the Latin Patriarchate, animated by some seminarians and the Christian Media Center will broadcast live for the whole diocese. The Chancellery will send the practical details and times of the celebrations in due course.
In the last few days, several documents have been published by the Holy See regarding liturgical and sacramental celebrations in view of Easter for the Churches that cannot normally celebrate them. The Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a decree on March 20. The Congregation for the Oriental Churches on March 25 published “indications” for Pascal celebrations in the churches it supports. On March 19, the Apostolic Penitentiary published a note on the sacrament of confession and a decree granting the gift of indulgences in a variety of circumstances to a variety of people: COVID-19 sufferers, health workers, caregivers and others.
Keeping in mind the above-mentioned documents and the restrictions decided by the various governments in the territory of our diocese, I communicate to you the following instructions for our Holy Week celebrations.
1. Palm Sunday
The procession of the palms is omitted. However, I invite all parish priests to do everything possible to make available to their faithful the previously blessed olive branches and bottles of holy water for the faithful to take home.
2. Chrism Mass
I feel that it does not make much sense to celebrate the Chrism Mass without the presence of the priests of the diocese. For this reason, it will be celebrated in Jerusalem towards the Solemnity of Pentecost, when we hope the restrictions will be lifted or in any case sufficiently reduced to allow for this celebration. It will also be the public and official occasion for the resumption of pastoral activities, and it will be a significant occasion that the whole Church finds itself united on that day. The communication of the date and place will be made in due time.
3. Triduum in parishes
Our diocese is very complex due to the different languages and the two calendars being observed in our territory. The vast majority of parishes are Arabic-speaking, but they follow two different calendars, Julian and Gregorian. We also have the Greek and English-speaking parishes in Cyprus, the Hebrew speaking Vicariate and the Vicariate for Migrants, each group with their respective languages. It is therefore impossible to have a single criterion for everyone.
The only general guideline is the firm determination to avoid the media proliferation of individual or personalized celebrations. During this time, media and television networks all over the world already transmit hundreds of religious broadcasts in all languages. I would like to avoid having a babel of different celebrations to be broadcasted in the media in our diocese. I ask that we try to maintain a minimum of unity with our celebrations.
I also believe that the celebration of the Triduum in empty parishes, without the physical participation of the faithful, with the priest alone in front of the camera, does not make much sense and not all parishes are able to broadcast this. Separate celebrations for each individual parish and community make sense if there is a community that physically meets. In the absence of a physical community, I prefer that there be less of coordination and organization, keeping in mind a sense of unity at least within the individual vicariates, and that dispersion is avoided. It is the only way at this particular time to keep a minimum of unity among us.
Pre-recorded celebrations are not allowed, therefore the faithful will be invited only to attend or watch live stream celebrations.
Following the suggestion of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, on Holy Saturday in the evening in all the churches, the bells will ring at the time previously scheduled for the celebration of the Vigil liturgy, even where there is no existing celebration at that time as agreed with the Vicariates within the diocese. It is a way of inviting everyone to a moment of unity in prayer.
Below are the indications for each region or context of the diocese, as agreed with the respective Vicars.
3.1 Arabic-speaking parishes with the Gregorian calendar
I ask all the Arabic-speaking parishes in the whole diocese to join the streaming celebration to be held in the Co-Cathedral animated by the seminarians. In this particular time, it is a modest sign of unity of the Church of Jerusalem, being united around the Bishop. The Latin Patriarchate celebrations follow the Gregorian calendar.
The Arabic-speaking parishes that follow the Julian calendar, in exceptional cases, are free to join the Holy Triduum in the Latin Patriarchate according to the Gregorian calendar, if they believe it is pastorally indicated.
3.2 Arabic-speaking parishes with the Julian calendar
The Vicariate of Jordan organizes a single celebration for the entire territory of the Vicariate, with a minimum of liturgical animation.
The parishes of the pastoral area of Ramallah that consider it better to keep the Orthodox date, organize themselves to have a single celebration referring to the parish of Ramallah. I invite the priests of the area to organize themselves together, if external circumstances permit.
The parishes of Galilee with the Julian calendar will try to organize themselves as they see fit, with possible coordination among themselves.
3.3 Non-Arabic speaking parishes and communities
The various Vicariates are well organized and know how to conduct themselves in these circumstances. These are the agreed indications to be adapted according to the present circumstances in their respective territories.
The Vicariate of Cyprus has one streaming celebration for the whole island, which takes into account the different cultures and languages that make up their respective communities, as they usually do very well.
The Saint James Hebrew speaking Vicariate also tries to have a single celebration transmitted for everyone.
The Vicariate for Migrants should be organized to possibly have a single celebration in their respective languages or to join with other communities as they often do for large public celebrations.
4. Prayer in the family
I honestly think that live streaming the Triduum celebrations are certainly important and useful but can never replace the physical presence in the celebrations, which for us is constitutive.
I think it is much more useful and fruitful to invite our respective communities to pray in the family.
Therefore, I sincerely invite the different Vicariates and diocesan offices in charge to prepare resources and materials to help families pray together at home again. Many now no longer know how to pray together and I think it is important to help families return to this beautiful tradition. It is good to guide them, for example, with biblical passages to read during the days of Holy Week, what practices to do, how a father or mother should bless the family, and so on.
Again, I repeat and I insist - it is good to have a live broadcast, because this is very helpful. But it is even more important to pray together in the family and i ask the parish priests, community leaders and various diocesan offices to prepare short and simple prayer guidelines for this purpose.
5. Religious communities
Religious communities that have the availability of a priest can celebrate the Triduum normally.
Religious communities that do not have a priest available shall follow the celebration through the media. The superiors according to the situation shall organize a liturgical prayer for their respective communities, with the faculty to distribute communion, at least on Holy Thursday.
6. The Priests
Priests can exceptionally celebrate the Holy Thursday Mass individually. Priests who are unable to celebrate Mass are to pray the Evening Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
7. Sacrament of Reconciliation - Confession
In this particular time, external circumstances do not allow individual sacramental confession. During Easter, many people will express the desire to go to confession. Following the indications of the Apostolic Penitentiary, these are the guidelines:
- General absolution can be given in hospices for the elderly, in hospitals, and in homes of people with disabilities or of any other situation where several people in need are gathered, as prescribed by the Code of Canon Law (961§2). Priests are asked to read the rite of the sacrament especially the part that concerns this situation and possibility without inventing anything new or something different.
- Individual confessions - If external circumstances do not allow or to be avoided at this time, the faithful are invited make a sincere Act of Contrition with a commitment to sacramentally confess to a priest as soon as this is possible.
These are the general guidelines to follow for the above indicated days and circumstances. If in the meantime there are concessions or compromise situations or that in some parts of the territory of the diocese it will be possible to gather again, obviously these instructions will not be useful and the communities will be able to celebrate normally.
The various Vicariates know how to adapt these directives, taking into consideration their respective contexts and the practical circumstances in which they will find themselves.
In all prayers and celebrations, always remember to pray for the victims of this Virus, for the Church in the world and in particular for our Church in Jerusalem.
I wish everyone a peaceful Easter as much as possible.
+ Pierbattista Pizzaballa