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Lenten practices in a time of COVID

The Archdiocesan Health, Safety and Environment team (HSE) on February 17, issued guidelines for the Lenten season and Holy Week. Bulletin #12 deals with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Palm Sunday, the Stations of the Cross, and Easter Triduum.

For the Sacrament of Reconciliation, parishes are to publish regular times and locations when priests are available to hear confession. The Sacrament cannot be administered virtually. The Guidelines state, “Mobile devices should not be used to facilitate priest/penitent communication, since this may undermine the validity of the sacrament and also is subject to breaches of the confessional seal.” If confessions are to be heard outside the church building, such as at the home of a penitent who is house bound, or through the car window in the case of someone with limited mobility, the document advised, “it is necessary to establish a location where confidentiality can be maintained.”

Priests who visit care homes for the elderly or patients in hospitals must be guided by the infection prevention protocols of the institution and exercise every precaution recommended including the wearing of personal protective equipment. There must be no physical contact and the priest must avoid touching any surfaces within the building. “As is the mandate within our local jurisdiction, a nose and mouth covering must be worn by the priest as well as the penitent, and a safe, physical distance of 6ft must also be maintained between the two persons at all times”, the Guidelines stated. It suggested that where possible, the confession may be heard through an open window or doorway or across two-way glass. The Guidelines suggested also, “Consider too if the sacrament may be postponed to a time when the individual has recovered and is discharged.”

Stations of the Cross

It is traditional for some churches to have public processions for the Stations of the Cross. In the current time however, gatherings for procession of worshippers are not allowed. “If the Stations of the Cross are being prayed inside the church, it is compulsory that no more than three (3) persons lead the prayers while moving between the Stations, using a microphone to amplify the sound.” The congregation remains in pews. “To observe the required physical distancing, the seat nearest the aisle in each pew should not be occupied so that the two persons leading the prayers will not be too close to those in the pews.” On Good Friday, the Guidelines suggested the Stations can be performed using a motorcade.

Palm Sunday

Although scientific research confirms the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from a contaminated surface is significantly lower than direct person-to-person, the Guidelines noted that palms are likely to be handled by “multiple, unwashed hands between harvest and their final destination.” Based on this, it recommended the sanitising of palms before distribution at Palm Sunday Masses. It provided details on how this should be done. Parish hospitality teams must perform hand hygiene prior to distributing the sanitised branches to congregations. “There is to be no procession from the outside of the church to the inside at the start of Palm Sunday Mass.”

Washing of the feet on Holy Thursday

The Guidelines stated, “This is an optional rite that is left entirely up to the Parish Priest to include or omit.” However, if the rite is performed, all COVID-19 protocols must be observed. There is to be no kissing of the feet or any direct contact between the priest/minister and the individual whose foot is being washed. The Guidelines emphasised that gloves must not be used by the priest/minister. “A separate, clean towel must be used to dry each person’s foot. It is preferable that each person whose foot is being washed brings his/her own towel and the towel be of adequate size to enable the priest to dry the foot easily while avoiding skin-to-skin contact.” There should be prompt disposal of waste water.

Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday

In processing towards the cross, the 6-foot physical distance must be observed. There is to be no kissing or touching of the statue or cross. Those who venerate should do so only with a bow or genuflection.

The service of light on Gloria Saturday

Traditionally, a “blazing fire” (rogus ardens) is prepared outside the Church, and the people gather around to experience the flames dispelling the darkness. The Guidelines noted, “The rubrics, however, acknowledge that when this cannot be done, adaptations may be made. The Rite gives the option for a shorter version with a maximum of two or three persons and the priest.” In this time of pandemic, the Guidelines stated that only the shorter version must be used. Congregations remain in pews while the Paschal candle is lit in the fire outside.

Sacraments of initiation on Gloria Saturday

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) may be held at the Easter Vigil this year. Persons who have been prepared may be baptised and confirmed and receive first Holy Communion. The Guidelines stated that Baptism should be a simple procedure in which fresh water is used for each person. “The water must be poured over the head only. Immersion is not permitted. The water cannot be recycled and must be disposed of immediately after the ceremony.” For Confirmation, chrism must be applied with a Q-tip to avoid skin-to-skin contact. Further details on the protocols for the Sacrament of Confirmation are contained in HSE Bulletin #9: Nov 2020. Visit for details on the latest bulletin and others.