By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Editor | Published March 27, 2020
ATLANTA—Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, diocesan administrator, announced new instructions regarding Holy Week and distribution of the sacraments in a memo to priests, deacons and parish leaders in the Archdiocese of Atlanta on Friday, March 26.
Due to the continued spread of COVID-19 in Georgia, the archdiocese will extend suspension of the Masses through Divine Mercy Sunday, April 19.
“If we should be granted the ability to return to public gatherings sooner, we will, of course, alter this plan accordingly,” said Bishop Konzen in the memo.
Pastors and other priests are encouraged to celebrate Palm Sunday Masses privately on April 5 for the intentions of the people with only those necessary for celebration of the liturgy such as a deacon, lector or server. Palms will be blessed and distributed later.
Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM Conv., who will be installed as Atlanta’s new archbishop, asked for postponement of the Chrism Mass until after his May 6 installation. He expressed hope of celebrating the Chrism Mass, during which the oils used by parishes are blessed, with all priests of the archdiocese.
Atlanta’s bishops will celebrate the liturgies of the Easter triduum at the Cathedral of Christ the King, Atlanta, to be broadcast livestream.
The memo also outlined the guidelines for observances of Holy Thursday Mass, which will omit washing of the feet; Good Friday and the Easter Vigil, without people present.
“A suggestion has been made that it could be a welcome practice and act of unity during this time for churches to ring their bells to signal that even a private Mass is being offered,” said Bishop Konzen. “For those within earshot, it can be a call to spiritual communion and contemplation of the Eucharistic mystery.”
He thanked priests and parish leaders for their “stewardship of our church during this time of challenge.”
Bishop Konzen said that these weeks of confinement may prompt “revival of devotions and practices little used or taught in recent times.”
The memo also addressed sacraments including reconciliation.
“It is no longer appropriate, given the local emergency accommodations, to hear confessions in confessional boxes or confined rooms,” said the bishop.
This change is in keeping with the direction of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Apostolic Penitentiary, which is the tribunal of the Holy See that governs confession matters.
Confessions should be celebrated in a well-ventilated area that provides for social distancing and confidentiality.
The Apostolic Penitentiary also noted that general absolution is reserved for special circumstances such as in a hospital ward where a number of coronavirus patients are sequestered.
However, all Catholics have an opportunity to use the church’s provision of an Act of Perfect Contrition when receiving sacramental absolution is not possible.
Perfect contrition requires the love of God, the sincere desire for forgiveness and the “ardent commitment” to receive the sacrament of reconciliation as soon as possible.
Special protocols are in place for the sacrament of the sick and viaticum, including use of fresh oils, cotton balls or swabs, gloves and masks.
First holy Communion and confirmation Masses will be rescheduled. If held at all, weddings and funerals should be limited to immediate families and conform to the size of gatherings outlined by the local health authorities.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, there will be no sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, but provisions are outlined for the rites to be celebrated later for those entering the church.
In-person religious education programs at parishes are recessed until Monday, April 20.
On March 25, Dr. Diane Starkovich, Superintendent of Catholic Schools, announced an extension of “virtual days” for high schools and “home learning plans” for grade school students. Schools are to remain closed through Friday, April 17. The week of April 6-10 will be spring breaks for most of the schools, with learning plans suspended that week.
“I realize the closing of our school buildings places a hardship on families as many parents are working remotely from home as their children continue with online learning,” said Starkovich. “These are unprecedented times in our world, and they call for serious action taken on our part in the best interest of public health.”
The superintendent thanked all school communities for their patience and cooperation.
“Let us be united in our faith and in our determination to return to our ‘normal days’ as soon as possible,” she said.