A girl receives a palm frond during Palm Sunday Mass. CNS photo/Bob Roller

After two years, Holy Week looking more familiar

  • April 7, 2022

Barring a dramatic reversal in pandemic fortune, the vast majority of Canadian Catholics will celebrate Holy Week as they did before COVID-19 infected society two years ago.

Capacity protocols will be completely overturned in all provinces and territories in time for Palm Sunday services April 9-10. Most provincial governments terminated public gathering limits from mid-February to mid-March, but Prince Edward Island completed this transition on April 7.

With the exception of Québec, wearing a mask in a place of worship is a personal choice instead of a mandated requirement. However, Québec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services said the masking rule might be rescinded for all venues except public transportation by the middle of this month.

The return to normal operations for most churches comes two years after seeing churches across Canada closed for in-person gatherings due to the pandemic and livesteamed Masses emerge as a new norm for church-goers.

In 2021, Catholic archdioceses and dioceses were directed to cap in-person attendance at Holy Week Masses to low percentage thresholds or a strict hard number of congregants. British Columbia was the one exception as public liturgical services were prohibited.

Another notable development leading up to Easter is that on March 14, the Diocese of Grand Falls, Nfld. scrapped the vaccination passport program that it implemented on Oct. 22, 2021 for parishioners aged 12 and older.   

While the majority of parishes will continue refraining from offering the Blood of Christ, most pre-pandemic rituals for Holy Week Masses are expected to return. Notably, the general public will be invited to attend the Chrism Mass to witness their bishop bless the Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Sick and the Oil of the Catechumens.

Upon restrictions ending in Ontario just before Ash Wednesday, Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, encouraged clergy and parish staff to consider that “this time of preparation of Easter is an ideal moment for parishes to undertake special efforts to welcome the faithful home again.”

Collins also stressed the importance of receiving Holy Communion, an act of remembrance for Jesus’ securing salvation for humanity during Holy Week.

“The Eucharist remains the source and summit of our life in Christ. For Christians, participation in the Sunday Eucharist is the central experience of the week, and that is the foundation for the obligation of every Catholic to be personally present at Mass every Sunday,” he said.

Archbishop of Ottawa-Cornwall Marcel Damphousse also published a letter at the beginning of Lent calling on member parishes to “take advantage of this grace to renew our faith and our religious practice” by encouraging their community to embrace a return to “full capacity for the liturgies and devotions of our rich tradition.”

Damphousse also encouraged Catholics to “seriously enter into an attitude of conversion” throughout the 40-day journey culminating with Easter weekend.

“We will accomplish this only if we keep our focus on the Lord who will guide us. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Christians around the world will be empowered to be more attentive to God and to the needs of their neighbors.”

COVID-19 case figures are expected to keep rising as Easter approaches. Public health officials state the BA.2 Omicron sub variant is driving this growth. Epidemiologists in Ontario and Québec have declared Canada’s two most populous provinces are in the midst of a sixth pandemic wave.

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