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Holy Week at home can still be a sacred experience

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Catholics across the diocese already know that Holy Week and Easter will be very different this year, with stay-at-home orders in place and public Masses suspended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. There won’t be armies of liturgists, musicians and decorating committees helping to create the prayerful, beautiful atmosphere that these special days deserve. 

This year, we have to do it ourselves.

“We call it Holy Week, but it isn’t automatically Holy Week. We have to do our part to make it Holy,” Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said in his April 3 Walk Humbly podcast. “It’s going to be an Easter and Holy Week like no other, but the truths of Easter are unchanged — no matter what time or situation we’re in, they’re constant.” 

The Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington and other churches have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep parishioners at home connected to liturgical celebrations during Holy Week and will offer many livestreamed Masses and Good Friday services. The cathedral even rewired the sanctuary and buried high-speed Ethernet cables in the cathedral’s pillars to allow fast and reliable streaming and prevent technological glitches or distractions.

But as many churchgoers have learned over the past few weeks at home, plopping down on the couch to passively watch Mass on TV or a laptop is not the same as putting on church clothes, making your way to the parish, and stepping into the hushed sanctuary to participate in the back-and-forth rhythm of the liturgy with your whole body — singing, standing, kneeling and making the reverent signs and gestures of the Mass.

Mass at home can be a sacred experience, but it won’t just magically happen when you turn on the computer. It takes a little more planning and preparation. 

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In addition to really participating when you watch Mass online, an array of materials are available to help you prepare. There are online daily readings and downloadable resource guides such as “Holy Week at Home,” a free guide produced by Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minn. It includes rituals and prayers adapted for home use, such as prayers for Holy Thursday, adoration of the cross on Good Friday and a renewal of baptism with Holy Water on Easter. And when Easter Sunday arrives, “Make sure your home looks like it’s Easter!” Bishop Burbidge said in his podcast.

Maria and Eric Wolpert and their four children, parishioners of All Saints Catholic Church in Manassas, have been trying to keep to their regular church schedule as much as possible despite all the changes and restrictions caused by the coronavirus. The first weekend that public Masses were suspended, the Wolperts announced their Sunday plans to Vincent, 13; Alexander, 8; Sophia, 7, and Simon, 2, after Saturday bedtime prayers.

On Sunday morning, they would wake up, dress in their church clothes and gather in the living room for the prerecorded Mass celebrated by their pastor, Father Lee R. Roos, at their usual 9:30 a.m. Mass time.

Eric set up the recording to play through the Xbox and onto the TV. “For once our family was actually early,” said Maria in an email. “We followed aloud, saying the familiar responses and performing the corresponding gestures. Despite the familiarity, it was still a little surreal to kneel and stand in our living room … But as we continued, our voices united, our family ‘church’ began to feel more like the church we knew.” They have continued to access Mass and Stations of the Cross through online streaming from various sources, she said.

Kristin and Ken Balbuena and daughters Anna, 10, and Allison, 7, attend St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. They too have been going to Mass in the living room, on the computer, “using our sofa cushions for kneelers.”

“We have lit a candle to help center ourselves in Christ — Anna lit it, which helps her feel involved,” Kristin wrote in an email. The girls also have The Mass Box subscription kit (themassbox.com) “which gets them excited about the readings. I let them do the craft after Mass in hopes they pay attention. It has been amazing at keeping them focused at Lent, especially now that we aren’t physically going to church.” 



Valerie Zecca of Reston moved to Northern Virginia in July and said she has been “binge-watching Masses” while waiting for remote work to gear up at her job as a speech therapist with the Fairfax County Public Schools. 

Zecca, 25, attends St. Thomas à Becket Church in Reston, but said she has been watching Masses online from churches all over the country, including her boyfriend’s home parish in Fitchburg, Mass., which she’s visited many times.  

“Right now, I really just need the comfort — everything is so different in our lives. Mass has been part of my life forever and it’s a grounding experience.” Zecca said she especially liked that at the end of one online Mass, the Act of Spiritual Communion was displayed on the screen so online viewers could say the prayer aloud. 

“This Lent has been such a season of sacrifice. It feels like we’ve given up a lot of comforts. But I have connected more to God and connected more to my family,” Zecca said. “I’m more virtually connected, but that’s been powerful. I’m counting my blessings.” 

Maria Wolpert agrees. Even during that first online Mass, “we were comforted by knowing we had not lost this connection entirely and were encouraged by Father’s closing words: ‘We know not what tomorrow brings, but we do know from Whom tomorrow comes.’ 

“It’s going to be OK,” she added. “We are going to get through all of this together.”

Advice for watching a livestreamed Mass

Before you begin: 

— Dress as if you were going to church.

— Straighten up your space, silence your phone and deal with potential distractions. 

— Light a candle and set out some items to help create a beautiful, prayerful atmosphere. Consider a few flowers from the garden in a small vase, an icon or crucifix, your bible.

— Settle your family in their places in time to take a few minutes of silence. Allow yourself to relax, take some deep breaths and remember that you are in God’s presence. 

During Mass:

— Listen deeply to all the readings and prayers and enter into the spirit of the liturgy.

— Participate physically as much as possible by standing, making the appropriate signs and gestures, singing the hymns or chants and saying the prayer responses aloud, just as if you were in church.

— Make an act of spiritual communion. The traditional words are below: 

Act of Spiritual Communion

My Jesus, 

I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.

 I love You above all things, 

and I desire to receive You into my soul. 

Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally, 

come at least spiritually into my heart. 

I embrace You as if You were already there 

and unite myself wholly to You. 

Never permit me to be separated from You.


Online resources for Holy Week at home

Several Catholic publishers and online ministries are posting free resources, including:

Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minn., which has produced a free guide called “Holy Week at Home,” that adapts Holy Week rituals for family and household prayer. 

— Bayard, the international Catholic publishing house, also is offering free resources, including texts of liturgies and reflections from its publication, “Living with Christ.”

— St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax offers Holy Week resources for parents. 

— Several online ministries are offering free coloring pages for children on the 14 Stations of the Cross and on Easter to help focus on Jesus and the Gospel stories. 



— U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offers daily readings online

— Composer Dan Schutte created a virtual liturgical celebration for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020