Papal Holy Week liturgies to be held without public present

Standing in the window of the library of the Apostolic Palace overlooking an empty St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis blesses the city of Rome on March 15. Photo: CNS/Vatican Media via Reuters

VATICAN (CNS): Late on March 14, the Prefecture of the Papal Household at the Vatican that “the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful.” The prefecture said the decision was made “because of the current global public health emergency” posed by the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

While public gatherings, including Masses, have been banned in Italy through April 3, Holy Week begins with the Passion Sunday liturgy on April 5, so the notification from the prefecture was seen as a sign that the ban would be extended, at least at the Vatican.

Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican press office, said that arrangements for Pope Francis’ Holy Week and Easter schedules were “still under study” and that the prefecture’s note was meant only to inform people seeking tickets that they would not be distributed as usual.

In a formal statement on March 15, Bruni said the pope would celebrate all of the Holy Week and Easter liturgies: Passion Sunday, the Chrism Mass, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the liturgy of the Passion of the Lord, the Easter vigil Mass and Easter morning Mass.

However, he said, the Vatican still is studying how those liturgies will take place and with what kind of participation “that respects the security measures in place to avoid the spread of the (Covid-19) coronavirus.”

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The decisions will be communicated, “as soon as they are determined, in line with the evolving epidemiological situation,” he said, adding that whatever decisions are made about who can or cannot attend, the liturgies will be transmitted and streamed live.

The Prefecture of the Papal Household posted its notice late hours after the Italian Ministry of Health released daily figures for the Covid-19 infection, which continues to spread despite the entire country being on lockdown.

As of the evening of March 14, the ministry said 21,157 people had tested positive for Covid-19, while 1,441 people had died and 1,966 were considered cured after testing negative twice.

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