For many people across the globe, this year's Passiontide and Holy Week will look vastly different than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, not only can we still celebrate these holy days; this bizarre set of circumstances might actually force us to celebrate them more closely to how our Catholic ancestors celebrated it in the past. This is with the obvious exception of course of not being able to attend Mass or other events like Stations during this time. But all is not doom and gloom: let's get some historical perspective that we can use to still make this a prayerful, meritorious Passiontide & Holy Week.
According to Dom Prosper Gueranger, for the last two weeks of Lent, throughout Christian history, "the Passion of our Lord is now the one sole thought of the Christian world." It is a time for renewed almsgiving and works of mercy. Let's look at the possibility of spending these two weeks in a global pandemic:
First, most of us have a lot more time. For one of the first times in recent memory, the world is allowing faithful Catholics to make our Lord's Passion their one, sole thought. Sure, you could use this time to binge-watch shows and descend into an idleness-driven depravity. But, what if you didn't? What if you used the time you would normally spend commuting, watching March Madness, eating out, attending social gatherings, etc., making Our Lord's Passion your one sole thought? Practically speaking, this means reading more about the Passion, spending more time meditating on it, talking with your children about it, spending more time in vocal prayer like the Rosary or Divine Office, watching The Passion, and getting creative—like having a Passion play in your own home. If you step away from the Internet and TV for a second, the call of the world is dramatically silenced. We can truly make this a Lent like one that was common to all of Christendom for many years. They wouldn't have attended parties, watched sporting events, or feasted at restaurants. In fact, theatres, court cases, even wars were for the most part outlawed during Lent. Maybe, just maybe, we have before us a golden opportunity.
Two, there is a lot of need in our local communities. In some places, there is a shortage of cleaning supplies and toilet paper. In others, senior citizens are shut in their homes, unable or too terrified to fulfill basic needs like grocery shopping. In a more universal sense, people are just lonely. They are shut up in their houses without the basic help that is normal in a functioning community—think of that mother who just had a baby, and would normally be receiving lots of homemade meals from her friends, or those parents of a child with disabilities, who are not able to get their usual help or support. Then there are the local business owners and hourly workers who aren't pulling in any money, but whose bills remain. It is easy to see how the needs of people have increased—what a perfect opportunity for our almsgiving and works of charity to redouble.
Let's look specifically at Holy Week. Did you know that, for many years, there was an obligation to forego servile labor during this most sacred of weeks? Business closed, and people stayed home or at church. As Dom Gueranger says, "The thought of the sufferings and death of Jesus was the one pervading thought: the Divine Offices and prayer were the sole occupation of the people." There was a, "universal suspension of the ordinary routine of life."
For many people, this describes how we are living right now pretty accurately: a universal suspension of the ordinary routine of life. Many will have no trouble staying home from work—their bosses don't want them there! There will be a lessened temptation to undergo unnecessary commerce—businesses have locked their doors! What if we took a tragic situation (and believe me, being unable to work is a very tragic situation) and embraced it for what it is—something sent by God for our sanctification. Let's embrace the Lenten austerity the quarantine has forced us into, and rejoice that we can celebrate Lent more closely to how our Catholic ancestors have always celebrated it.
Of course, we have to fill the time with something. It's not enough to just accept these forced mortifications and move on, spending hours in front of the TV or on our phones. This will require us becoming strict on ourselves with how we spend our time. This will require us filling our time with meditations, readings, prayers, and conversations centered on the Passion of Our Lord. As I posted yesterday, we will try to help out here by providing some concrete things your family can do to celebrate these holy days at home, based on what our Catholic ancestors did habitually, in posts and of course on our Liturgical Look-Ahead email service.
Let's finish out Lent with this motto, amid the panic and paranoia of the world around us: the Passion of our Lord is our one, sole thought.