Although adjustments had to be made because of the global pandemic, the movements of Holy Week will continue to be celebrated with great reverence and splendor in the Trenton Diocese. Photo from Freepik.com
Although adjustments had to be made because of the global pandemic, the movements of Holy Week will continue to be celebrated with great reverence and splendor in the Trenton Diocese. Photo from Freepik.com
Each year, faithful from throughout the world are invited to experience the unfolding of the Paschal Mystery of our Lord by participating in the various liturgies that commemorate his Passion, Death and Resurrection during Holy Week.

The following are encapsulations about the special liturgies along with some of the directives that Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., issued with regard to the celebrations in this time of pandemic. Priests in the Diocese of Trenton received a full copy of these Holy Week and Easter Pandemic Directives on Jan. 28.

To read more about the directives in detail, visit dioceseoftrenton.org/pandemic-directives.

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord • March 28

Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. As Jesus, who was riding on a donkey, entered the city, the enthusiastic crowds greeted him by throwing their cloaks down before him as a gesture reserved for royalty and also spread palm branches along the road while shouting “Hosanna,” a Hebrew expression meaning “save us.”

Until this time, Jesus, in his public ministry, did not allow himself to be proclaimed as the Messiah. However, in this final entry into Jerusalem, he sets the stage for an entry that fulfills the Old Testament’s foreshadowing of the coming of the Messiah.

As a memorial of Christ’s suffering, the day’s liturgy includes the reading of the Passion – the Gospel passages, which give the accounts of events of Christ’s suffering and Death.

Because of the pandemic, the directives issued by Bishop O’Connell for Palm Sunday include that the Procession and Solemn Entrance at the start of Mass are to be omitted.  Palms will be blessed – available after Mass as people exit Church.

Mass of Chrism • March 29, Monday of Holy Week

The Chrism Mass reflects the communion of the priests with their bishop. During this Mass, all of the priests of the Diocese who are gathered publicly renew their commitment to their priestly service. The Mass is also when the Bishop blesses the oils to be used in parishes throughout the coming year. The Bishop blesses the Oil of the Sick, which is used for the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, and the Oil of Catechumens, which is used for the Baptism of adult catechumens at the Easter Vigil. He also consecrates the Sacred Chrism, which is used for the Sacraments of Confirmation, Baptism and the ordination of priests and bishops and the consecration of churches.

The diocesan Chrism Mass will be celebrated at 7:30 p.m. in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, by Bishop O’Connell. The faithful are invited to watch the Mass this year via livestream only since, due to pandemic restrictions, attendance will be limited to concelebrating priests who will renew their priestly commitments and collect their blessed and consecrated oils for their parishes.

Holy Thursday • April 1

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates when Jesus gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover. During this Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the priesthood.

It is also at this Mass when the Gospel is read of how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. By washing his disciples’ feet, he set for them and for all of his followers, the example of what it means to “love one another” and to be of service to others.

At the end of the Mass, the Eucharist to be shared on Good Friday is not returned to the tabernacle. Instead, the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession by the priest. This action symbolizes Jesus’ walk to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonized over the suffering he was soon to endure.

It is also at the end of the Mass when the altar is stripped. This ancient ritual is a powerful re-enactment of the Lord’s humiliation at the hands of the Roman soldiers. The bare altar symbolizes the transformation of the communion table of Holy Thursday into the tomb slab of Good Friday.

Pandemic directives state that the washing of the feet and the procession with the Holy Eucharist at the end of Mass be omitted this year. Instead, the Holy Eucharist is to be placed in a tabernacle or altar of repose for the adoration of the faithful after the reception of Holy Communion.

Good Friday • April 2

Good Friday, a day of fasting for the Church, commemorates Jesus’ Crucifixion and Death. In keeping with the Church’s ancient tradition that Sacraments are not to be celebrated on Good Friday, this is the only day during the year when Mass is not celebrated. Instead, the celebration of the Lord’s Passion takes place within the context of a Communion service and is held at 3 p.m., which places the prayer close to the traditional hour of Jesus’ Death. The service includes a Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross and reception of Holy Communion. The Passion is proclaimed again, but on this day, it is from John’s Gospel account, which is more personal than the other accounts found in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

Pandemic directives include that physical contact during the Veneration of the Cross is prohibited.

Holy Saturday • April 3

The Roman Missal explains: “On Saturday, the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb, meditating on his suffering and death. The altar is left bare, and the sacrifice of the Mass is not celebrated. Only after the solemn vigil during the night held in anticipation of the Resurrection, does the Easter celebration begin, with a spirit of joy that overflows into the following period of 50 days.”

Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Although celebrated on Holy Saturday evening, the Easter Vigil liturgy marks the beginning of Easter. The Vigil is arranged in four parts: a service of light, which includes the blessing of the fire and lighting of the Paschal Candle; the Liturgy of the Word, during which seven Readings from the Old Testament may be proclaimed that tell the Salvation History of God’s people; the liturgy of Baptism, when new members are welcomed into the Church through the Sacraments of Initiation, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Because of the pandemic, the tradition of blessing of Easter food on Holy Saturday is highly discouraged indoors, but outdoor blessings may be arranged at the discretion of the pastor. Pandemic directives issued for the Easter Vigil include the omission of the preparation and lighting of the Easter Fire and distribution of candles to the congregation; the Blessing of Water should take place with a small amount of water blessed that can be disposed of reverently afterward; no water is to be placed in the fonts, and the Baptismal Liturgy should include the Renewal of Baptismal Promises unless there are Elect present for Baptism. Other adjustments provided in the diocesan pandemic directives will be made by the pastor of each parish.

Easter Sunday The Resurrection of the Lord • April 4

Easter Sunday continues to proclaim the glorious news of the Resurrection. Jesus has been raised from the dead and the power of sin and death has been destroyed forever.

Public Masses take place as usual according to parish schedules, observing all COVID protocols.