Holy Week Masses and services in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown will include some modifications to accommodate the demands of physical distancing and ensure the safety of clergy and parishioners.
Among the directives issued by Bishop Mark is permission to have musicians, song leaders, and choirs during the liturgies. All should follow established procedures regarding masks, physical distancing, shielding, and other precautions. Choirs, musicians, song leaders and directors of liturgical music are reminded to reduce the number of verses and shorten music appropriately so as not to prolong indoor gatherings.
As previously announced, palms are not to be distributed or made available prior to Masses on Palm Sunday weekend. Palms are not to be placed on tables for people to take themselves. Rather, ushers or other volunteers are to hand them to people at the end of Mass as the exit the church.
Bishop Mark has granted permission for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday to be celebrated as early as 7:00 p.m., rather than waiting for sundown. The washing of feet is not to occur during the Mass. A procession at the end of the Liturgy would be comprised of the priest carrying the Blessed Sacrament, one candle bearer, and one other server if incense is used. If the place of repose is the church itself, choir members and the faithful are to remain in their places in order to maintain safe distance. If the place of repose is outside of the church, choir members and the faithful may, with proper precautions and distancing, follow after the procession. At the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, it is recommended that those who have participated in the Liturgy remain for a period of adoration and reflection.
On Good Friday, faithful may approach for the veneration of the cross while keeping the proper distance. The cross is not to be kissed. The proper reverence would be a bow or the sign of the cross. In celebrations that are live streamed, the priest should invite viewers at home to look to a crucifix or another image of Christ crucified. The Holy See has authorized the addition of a prayer for all those who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, for an end to the virus, and for the health and well-being of everyone.
On Holy Saturday, the Easter Vigil may begin as early as 4:00 p.m., according to the Bishop’s directives. There is to be no fire and no gathering of people for the blessing of fire. Only a small amount of water should be blessed during the Vigil. Fonts in the church are not to be filled with holy water until further notice. Prefilled bottles of water may also be blessed at this time for the faithful.
All are invited to safely participate in Holy Week observances at parishes throughout the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, but the faithful are reminded that the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Masses remains waived by Bishop Mark until further notice.
As always, the Proclaim! TV Masses on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday will be broadcast live from Saint John Gualbert Cathedral in Johnstown at 11:00 a.m. on WATM ABC 23 with Bishop Mark as celebrant and homilist. The Liturgies will be rebroadcast on those nights at 9:00 p.m. on Atlantic Broadband channel 9 and posted on the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown website and Facebook page. Various parishes will also offer live-streaming or recorded Masses on social media and/or their website on those days and throughout Holy Week.