By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published April 16, 2020
LAWRENCEVILLE—Father John Howren, pastor of St. Lawrence Church, encouraged his congregation to be involved in Holy Week celebrations, even though parishioners were unable to gather due to COVID-19, the coronavirus.
“Being ‘with me’ does not mean you simply sitting and watching me pray these awesome liturgies on your screen,” said Father Howren. “Instead, be engaged in the worship with me! Use signs and symbols and activities as we, body and soul, give God worthy thanks and praise for the gift of salvation.”
An email was sent to members of the Lawrenceville congregation to celebrate each day of the Holy Triduum. On Holy Thursday, parishioners were encouraged to wash each other’s feet at home and enjoy a simple meal of bread, wine and grape or pomegranate juice together as a family after the livestream Mass. For Good Friday, families prayed the Stations of the Cross. The youngest person, if able, was asked to walk a crucifix around to everyone in the family for them to kiss the cross. For the Easter Vigil, lighting a large candle was encouraged during the readings as well as ringing bells, even a doorbell, for the Gloria.
Father Howren also encouraged families to make Easter Sunday special. Get everyone up, bathed, put on nice clothes and enjoy a beautiful breakfast, he said. Recommendations included calling family members, checking on those that live alone, reaching out to neighbors while practicing social distancing, Easter egg hunts and chocolate bunnies.
“Have the whole household present and attentive, standing and sitting and kneeling, singing and responding, all in prayer and praise and worship of our good and gracious God,” said Father Howren.
Parishes adjusted Holy Triduum and Easter celebrations since public Masses were suspended in the Archdiocese of Atlanta due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite being unable to gather for Holy Week celebrations, parish leaders in north and central Georgia found creative ways to work with and around annual traditions.
“As leaders serving the church in our parishes, missions, schools and college campuses, your challenge is to connect with young people and families in new and not always convenient ways. I want to thank you for striving to be close to those you serve,” said Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, diocesan administrator for the Atlanta Archdiocese.
Families at Mary Our Queen Church in Peachtree Corners received a newsletter of faith formation activities to do at home for Holy Week and Easter. Ideas included creating a prayer space or altar at home and reading the Passion of Christ together as a family.
For Transfiguration Church, preparing for Holy Week included Zoom meetings with parish youth and age-appropriate activities being sent to families of the Marietta parish.
Parishioners were encouraged to be a “Secret Simon” of Cyrene. Family members picked names out of a bag and did something nice for the family member whose name they pulled. Together at the end of the day, families could guess who pulled their name.
The staff shared lots of resources with parishioners hoping something grabs their attention and is manageable for their family, said Joyce Guris, director of religious education and youth ministry at Transfiguration.
Audio recordings of a Good Friday meditation, examination of conscience and Way of the Cross served as spiritual support for parishioners of St. Luke the Evangelist in Dahlonega. Virtual Bible study was also made available for Catholic Campus Ministry students from the University of North Georgia.
These practices and many others comforted Catholics unable to celebrate the joy of Easter within a congregation.
“Although we can’t gather physically, we can unite spiritually,” said Bishop Konzen.