On 17 February 2021, the Holy See published a Note to Bishops (Prot N 96/21). No new indications for 2021 were given there, however it confirmed that the indications given last year are still valid (Decree in Time of Covid-19 Prot N 153/20 and Decree in Time of Covid-19 II Prot N 154/20). For areas where it is possible to have public celebrations in churches, the 3 September 2020 letter of Cardinal Sarah, Let us Return to the Eucharist with Joy, is recommended (Prot N 432/20).

The new February 2021 letter does give preference to the “celebrations presided over by the Bishop” for “media coverage.” However, the experience of the Council for Liturgy has been that although many Irish parishioners tended to sample livestreams from many different churches in many different countries during the first lockdown, as time passed, many have gravitated to the streaming of liturgies from their own parish church, where they know the local clergy and it is being broadcast from a church sanctuary that they know and love. Parishes in Ireland have a much better live-stream system than many other countries and nearly every parish in the country is now on-line. Nevertheless, those involved in Cathedrals and in all other liturgies presided by the bishop should strive for excellence and holiness in their liturgical celebrations, so that they are an example for their whole diocese.

The main advice from the Congregation for Divine Worship is

The norms and directives contained in the liturgical books, drawn up with normal times in view, are not entirely applicable in exceptional moments of crisis such as these. For this reason, the Bishop as moderator of the liturgical life of his Church, is called upon to make prudent decisions in order that the liturgy can be celebrated fruitfully for the People of God and for the good of the souls entrusted to his care, while respecting the safeguarding of health and what has been prescribed by the authorities responsible for the common good.

Note to Bishops (17-2-2021)

The various documents from the Congregation for Divine Worship are included in the following pages and Masters of Ceremonies are advised to consult them in the preparation of the various liturgies. If public liturgies are to be celebrated, these need also to be in line with public health guidelines. If the liturgies are to be broadcast it is advisable that the celebrant be accompanied by other ministers. A cantor and organist (or other instrumentalist) is allowed, as is a Lector and (adult) server. A deacon may also participate as well as someone to operate the cameras and a sacristan. All of these are engaged in “necessary work.” But numbers ought to be kept to a minimum. Additionally, extreme care must be taken to be socially distant in the church. Masks must be worn, except by whomever is speaking or singing in that moment (and that person should not have anyone else close to them when their mask is off). Care must also be taken to avoid sharing books (Lectionaries, Missals, liturgical folders etc.) and even the same pulpit or lectern. Cantors in particular should be at a safe distance from others.

The guidelines advise for a minimum of processions. There is no need for the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday (which is an optional rite). If palms or holy water are blessed, extreme care is to be taken in their eventual distribution.

Regarding the blessing Chrism and Holy Oils. These need to be preserved “diligently with proper care.” While normally priests should use oil that has been “consecrated or blessed recently by a bishop,” he may use “old oils” when it is “necessary” (see CIC 847). The current pandemic is clearly a situation that might render it “necessary” to use old oils (i.e. those blessed or consecrated in the Chrism Mass of 2019). A bishop may choose to postpone his Chrism Mass or hold it with a minimum presence of assisting ministers. If there is not a need for as much Chrism and Holy Oil to be distributed as normal, then a more prudent amount may be consecrated and blessed. If a diocese or a parish has extra oils or old oils that they no longer need, these must be disposed of reverently. Number 1127 of the Book of Blessings states that, “Each year when the bishop blesses the oils and consecrates the chrism, the pastor should see that the old oils are properly disposed of by burning and that they are replaced by the newly blessed oils.” Olive oil is difficult to burn, but it may be soaked into cotton balls and burned.1 Otherwise, it could be reverently stored until the Easter Vigil of 2022 to burn in the Paschal Fire that year (there is no Paschal Fire this year, even in places that can celebrate the Easter Vigil with an assembly present). Some parishes also have the custom of burning the old oils in front of the Altar of Repose on Holy Thursday night (although there will be no Altar of Repose this year either). Alternatively, some places have the tradition of burying the old oils in the ground. This can take place in the parish grounds or in a Catholic cemetery. This is the most eco-friendly manner of disposing of old oils. However, care must be taken that the oils do not remain on top of the ground and if any quantity of oil is to be disposed of, it is recommended that they be buried in a hole at least a foot deep, as oil can bubble up to the surface of the ground and become slippery and a hazard, in addition to the fact that it is not being disposed of worthily. It is not allowed to simply pour the old oil on the pavement or to dispose of it in the regular rubbish bin.

Finally those involved with the preparation and celebration of the Holy Week liturgies ought to be aware of an initiative from the Council for Liturgy if the IEC. A working group coordinated by the National Centre for Liturgy compiled resources for Holy Week, the Easter Triduum and Easter from all the different dioceses of Ireland. These have been collated and forwarded to all diocesan offices and are available on the Centre’s website: http://www.liturgy-ireland.ie

Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue

2 March 202

1 This liturgical supply company in the States sells a specially designed Sacramental Oil Burner: http://www.mvchurchgoods.com/detail.lasso?id=MV880a&label=oilstock