Lebanon’s Churches are adjusting to the restrictions imposed on Holy Week by the COVID-19 pandemic. The “picturesque and colourful" processions of Palm Sunday have been cancelled. Liturgical services will be held behind closed doors, but the faithful will be able to follow them via the Internet. The health crisis is a "dark night" that we must face as “one”.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – “What is God telling us through this pandemic?” There is no single answer to this question that many concerned people are asking. The whole planet is taken aback by the suddenness of an event that goes beyond its coping mechanisms. And Lebanon is certainly no exception. The rapid evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic is a test and a challenge for the country and its Churches, coming at the high point in the liturgical calendar when places of worship are usually overflowing. As a result, this year, the streets and roads of Lebanon will not see picturesque and colourful Palm Sunday processions.
Indeed, given the situation, Lebanon’s Churches, after consulting each other, have decided to fully comply with official health instructions and cancel all public offices. This means no Masses, including in Orthodox churches. Liturgical offices will still be celebrated in church, but behind closed doors. Thanks to television and social media (mainly Facebook and Zoom), parish priests will fill the void and help people maintain a feeling of participation.
As the top media outlet, Télé Lumière has broadcast live since the start of the coronavirus crisis a daily rosary led by the patriarch (5.30 pm), as well as Pope Francis’s morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta in Rome (8 am). This Sunday the network will broadcast the Palm Sunday office at 10:00 am from the Greek Catholic Archbishopric of Beirut.
Some imaginative priests have gone so far as to tape the offices, to avoid unforeseen events that might occur during a live broadcast. In the Greek Orthodox Church, which this year celebrates Easter a week later, the precautionary instructions seem just as strict as everywhere else, said the pastor of Saint Elias parish, Mtayleb.
As broad guidelines, Eastern Churches have recently agreed to the following recommendations:
- The festivities must be strictly maintained on the day set in the liturgical calendar, with the relative celebrations be broadcast so that the faithful can follow them at home.
- The parts of the celebrations that take place outside the church must be omitted.
- The faithful must keep in mind the value of personal and family prayer, which is a true ecclesial prayer.
- On Holy Thursday, some Churches celebrate the consecration of Saint-Maron. This celebration can be moved to another date.
- On Good Friday, individual or family prayers around the Cross and the tomb of Christ must be highlighted, using the rich texts of Eastern traditions specific to this day.
- On Easter night, families should be invited to come together, if possible, by the festive sound of bells, to read the Gospel of the Resurrection, lighting candles and burning incense.
- Any baptism planned for Easter should be postponed to another date.
- If pastors cannot hear confessions, a duty which is imposed at least once a year, at Easter, they must suggest to the faithful some of the penitential prayers of which the Eastern tradition is rich, to be recited in a spirit of contrition.
- Funeral services must be performed exclusively in churches with an attached cemetery in the presence of the parish priest and the family of the deceased, without condolences.
To the directives already issued, the Latin Church has added the following recommendations.
- on Holy Thursday, foot washing, already optional, is omitted;
- at the end of the Last Supper Mass, the procession must also be omitted and the Blessed Sacrament must be kept in the tabernacle;
- on Good Friday, the act of worshiping the Cross with a kiss must be limited to the celebrant only;
- expressions of popular piety and Holy Week processions may be moved, depending on the bishop's judgment, to other suitable days, like 14 and 15 September.
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“A dark night”
Many religious congregations experience this moment for the Church and the world in a very intense way, worrying about the social crisis which is starting to hit hard some more vulnerable groups. For many, social and international relations will be redefined by this ordeal.
"Today, our world, our planet is living through n a moment of darkness,” said the Superior General of the Good Shepherd sisters, Sister Ellen Kelly, in a message she addressed to the houses of her community active across Lebanon. “This is why we can turn to Mary and to those who preceded us who experienced the night of the soul. [. . .]. No more plans, no more ‘my country first,’ at the expense of others. The reality is that we are one.”