(Editor’s note: Archbishop José H. Gomez adapted the following from a message written in his capacity as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Here he offers practical reflections on how to enter into these mysteries of Holy Week in these extraordinary and challenging times.)
Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth. As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics here in Los Angeles and across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
But we know that our Redeemer lives. Even in this extraordinary and challenging moment, we give thanks for what Jesus Christ has done for us by his life, death, and resurrection. Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.
These are times almost without precedent in the long history of the Church. In the face of this worldwide contagion, my brother bishops and I in almost every country have been forced to temporarily suspend public worship and celebration of the sacraments.
I am painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurting by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments. This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. Along with my brother bishops and priests, we ache with our people and we long for the day when we can be reunited around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the sacred mysteries.
In this difficult moment, we ask God for his grace, that we might bear this burden together with patience and charity, united as one family of God in his universal Church. And because this Holy Week will be so different, so challenging, I want to offer here some short reflections that I hope can help us to enter into these mysteries of our redemption in a new and meaningful way.
It will not be possible for many of us to go to confession this year. But we need to remember that, in extreme circumstances, the Church’s ancient tradition allows us to receive forgiveness for our sins even apart from sacramental confession. This beautiful grace, called “perfect contrition,” is explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1452).
During this Holy Week, I urge you to examine your conscience and return to God with your whole heart.
We can follow the practical advice that our Holy Father Pope Francis offered us in a recent homily: “Do what the Catechism says. It is very clear: If you do not find a priest to hear your confession, speak to God, he is your Father, and tell him the truth. Enumerate your sins, ask the Lord for forgiveness with all your heart, and make an act of contrition. Promise him: ‘Later I will confess, but forgive me now.’ And immediately you will return to the grace of God.”
Holy Week at home
Although we cannot celebrate the sacred mysteries in our churches this year, I urge each of you to make your homes a “domestic church.” This ancient Christian ideal resonates even more profoundly in this time of quarantine and “sheltering at home.”
For parents of young children, this can be a moment of grace, a time for bearing witness to the importance of the faith in your lives. Pray with your children, especially the rosary; read the Bible, watch the livestream of the Mass as a family.
In every home, we can spiritually enter into these mysteries of our salvation through prayer and reading the Scriptures for each day of Holy Week. Walk with Jesus as he makes his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. On Holy Thursday, pray with him at his Last Supper and wait with him in his agony in the garden. Help him to carry his cross on Good Friday. In the silence of Holy Saturday, contemplate all that he has accomplished in his love for us, and rejoice with him at the empty tomb on Easter morning!
Find the full schedule for Holy Week at home here.
Although it is not possible for us to celebrate these mysteries in our churches, we can unite ourselves spiritually to God and to one another through the internet and broadcast media.
As you participate in these “virtual” liturgies, remember that you are not a “viewer” passively watching a performance. In these liturgies, Jesus Christ is truly present as he is in every Mass. With the priest, you are offering your sacrifice of praise to the living God, and we worship with the angels and the whole communion of saints.
Especially in this Holy Week, I urge you to join yourself to the sacrifice of the Mass by making a simple act of spiritual communion. Tell the Lord that you love him more than anything in life and that you long to receive him in your heart, even if you cannot receive him in his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Offer your whole self to him on the altar — all your sufferings and joys, all your talents and gifts. Tell him that you never want to be separated from him.
In these extraordinary and challenging times, I ask you to offer your personal sufferings and sacrifices for those who are sick with the coronavirus and for all those in health care ministries who are risking their lives to take care of them. Pray for all their families and loved ones. Pray for those who are suffering from the loss of their jobs and businesses, and all those who fear for their future. Pray for the many men and women who are risking their health to provide essential services in this time of need.
Pray to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
On Good Friday, on behalf of all the bishops in the United States, I will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.
I ask you to join me in this prayer, which will be livestreamed from the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels over the internet at 9 a.m. here on the West Coast and 12 noon on the East Coast. Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy.
The Holy Father has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray for an end to this pandemic. To receive this indulgence, you need to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, be truly sorry for your sins and desire to receive the sacrament of reconciliation as soon as it is possible, and you need to pray for the intentions of the pope.
In the heart of Jesus, pierced as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, we see the love of God for humanity, his love for each one of us.
This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains. Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.
Because he loves us, and because his love can never change, we should not be afraid, even in this time of trial and testing. In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to intercede for us, that he might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.
You can pray Archbishop Gomez’s prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe in the time of the coronavirus here.