Bishop Warfel’s Directives for Chrism Mass, Holy Week, and Easter

Bishop Michael Warfel
Bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments released a “Note” on February 18, 2021 for bishops regarding the celebration of Holy Week for this year. Basically, the Congregation said that the special instructions given by them last year may again be applied for 2021. However, they also noted that circumstances vary from place to place so it is up to the local bishop to make a prudent decision for Holy Week to be celebrated fruitfully for the people of God while safe guarding the health of those who may gather.

The current protocols I have asked to be followed sufficiently address concerns for health while allowing members of parishes to gather for this holiest time of year. I ask that you remind parishioners to adhere to these protocols given that there is likely to be a larger grouping in our assemblies.

There are a couple of items I would like to highlight given the uniqueness of Holy Week liturgies and Easter:

  • Easter Sunday Mass, along with Christmas, is normally a highly attended Mass. Especially for the larger parishes, a pastor may want to add a Mass that normally would not be scheduled in order to accommodate a larger expected attendance. Given that cases of Covid-19 appear to be diminishing and with more people being vaccinated as well as already having had Covid-19, parishioners who have stayed away may have more confidence in attending Mass on Easter Sunday.
While not mandatory, I prefer that the renewal of baptism promises followed by the sprinkling of baptismal water take place following the homily. Prior to the Gospel, the sequence (which is mandatory) ideally is sung by the assembly though this may be done by a cantor.
  • As noted previously, there will be three Chrism Masses this year as had been the custom in this diocese for a number of years: St. Patrick’s Co-cathedral, Billings on Tuesday, March 23rd; Sacred Heart Parish, Glendive on Wednesday, March 24th; St. Ann’s Cathedral, on Friday, March 26th. All liturgies will be at 6:00 PM.

Pastors are asked to invite only a limited number from each parish/mission (5 or 6). Also, priests are asked to vest in place in the church since there will be no procession. Sacred oils will be bottled and disseminated immediately after Mass.

  • Holy Thursday Mass generally includes the washing of feet which is quite meaningful to many parishioners. Given that this is optional in the liturgy, the recommendation is to dispense with the washing of feet again this year. Hopefully, this can return next year.

Depending on circumstances and the physical layout of the parish church, at the conclusion of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a procession to the place of repose is not required but is allowed. The Blessed Sacrament may simply be kept in the Tabernacle.

  • Good Friday is celebrated normally though intentions for the sick, the dead and for those who feel lost or dismayed should be considered (see: Missale Romanum, page 314, n. 13)
  • The Easter Vigil may be celebrated as last year with the lighting of the Paschal Fire and Blessing of the Easter Candle followed by the procession being omitted. In this case, the Easter Candle is already to be in place and lit followed by the Exsultet followed by the Liturgy of the Word. I believe that some parishes, given their layout, could have the priest (and deacon) (possibly with a small group of parishioners) process with the Easter Candle. A judgment will need to be made for what is best for each parish.

Initiations are to take place, but parishes are to assure that there is proper spacing with sponsors and god parents and only a limited group near the font. For parishes with multiple baptisms/confirmations, catechumens and candidates with their godparents and sponsors should be arranged so that the Elect, in case of baptism, and candidates to be confirmed be allowed to have proper spacing.

While I have chosen not to wear vinyl gloves or use cotton balls to confirm, this is allowable. However, they should be properly disposed of afterward and not simply thrown in the trash.