Liturgy in the times of COVID-19

Undoubtedly, these times of a pandemic are difficult times: not so much for the liturgy itself but for the way we are used to participating in it. The liturgical routine which has worked out for us until now, in these present times of the spread of the coronavirus requires an adequate rethinking and a rapid adaptation to the new circumstances.

This fact may affect to a lesser extent the internal life of our communities, but it is definitely a great problem in those places where we carry out daily pastoral activity “ad extra”, for example in the many parishes that have been entrusted to our care around the world. And so we ask ourselves, how should we approach the problem correctly?

Let me remind you of some general principles and concrete observations. With them I hope to help you discern what that perspective should be, especially now, as we are entering Holy Week.

The liturgy

It is not true that we are left with no liturgy because of the pandemic. After all, we must not forget that we are not the principal agents in the liturgy, but that the one who primarily acts is always Christ (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 7). In fact, what we are supposed to do is to participate in his liturgy, to be grafted into his action. From this perspective the epidemic is only a relative obstacle, an obstacle that will hopefully end as soon as possible. It goes without saying that this year’s Easter Triduum will be different because we will not be able to celebrate it as a Church community with our faithful present in the flesh. However, the fact that in our Dominican parishes the Triduum celebrations take place with empty pews does not mean that they are private celebrations. On the contrary, they are still celebrations of the entire Church, but, because of the epidemic, reduced to a minimum. It is worthwhile to interiorize this perspective and always remember that we never celebrate alone. We celebrate together with all those who are spiritually united with us, even if they cannot be physically present.

Moreover, the liturgy is much more than the celebration of the Eucharist. Although it is the “the fount and apex of the whole Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11; cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium 10), the Eucharist does not exhaust all the Church’s liturgical activity. After all, we must remember the importance of the Liturgy of the Hours and the existence of other devotions that are very much present in the Dominican tradition itself, such as the recitation of the Rosary. It is good not to limit our perspective!

Participation in the liturgy through the media

In all probability, the coronavirus has forced us to “fast” from the fullness of liturgical life. In many places, in order to continue building up a concrete local community, broadcasts of the liturgy on television or via the internet were rightly introduced. In many places, learning this different way of participating in the Eucharist has meant abandoning our good habits: attendance in person, singing, gestures, receiving communion… In other words, we had to leave behind everything that makes us participate in the Eucharist in the most complete way. In any broadcast, no matter how good, our room for manoeuvre is limited. However, it would be a mistake to say that these efforts are meaningless. In many places this form of broadcasting has already been used for the sick, who subsequently receive communion through ministers, ordinary or extraordinary, giving them the opportunity to participate more fully in the Eucharistic celebration with their parish community. Of course, being present in person is always most desirable, but in an emergency situation like the one we are experiencing we must find other solutions. It is worth emphasizing that the current solutions are of extraordinary nature; when the epidemic is over, we will return to the usual way of celebrating the liturgy.

The celebration of the Triduum

The celebration of the Triduum in our Dominican communities should not be a problem. Of course we should take into account the specific instructions of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments issued this year, such as the suppression of the Mandatum. However, perhaps it could be a good time to pay more attention to the attitude we have towards our celebrations in general. Are they a true expression of what is commanded by the Rule of Life we profess: “The main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart” (Regula Sancti Augustini 1). We could also consider introducing elements proper to the liturgy of the Order, all of which are included in the renewed Dominican liturgical books duly approved.

In “ad extra” celebrations, especially those in our parishes and for the communities that usually meet in our churches, broadcasting may not be enough. Of course, it is good to be united in the prayer of the Church, but we must also consider how to help our people develop “domestic celebrations”, celebrations in which the faithful are forced to stay at home. There are many solutions. In many places forms have already been devised that can be easily imitated. A good example is that created by the Archdiocese of Manila or the resources put together at Liturgical Press. Of course there are many more, although it is always appropriate to have a preference for those that are best suited to our particular local traditions. I encourage you all to be creative in looking for most appropriate solutions! The liturgy and the way it is celebrated are also a part of our Dominican preaching, and above all it is an expression of our pastoral responsibility for all those entrusted to our care who currently cannot worship with us.

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