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Washington D.C., Apr 4, 2020 / 01:22 pm (CNA).- The novel coronavirus pandemic's effects on victims and the closure of churches have deeply pained the Catholic faithful and clergy, but Holy Week is a time to join together to seek God's mercy and love in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said.

“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,” Gomez said in an April 3 message for Holy Week.

“This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains,” he said. “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,” said Gomez. “In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love.”

Gomez said he will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on Good Friday, April 10, for an end to the coronavirus pandemic. He asked Catholics to join him via internet livestream at 9 a.m. Pacific Time / noontime Eastern Time. The livestream will be hosted at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles website and the U.S. bishops' conference Facebook page.

“Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy,” said Gomez, who added that Pope Francis has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray the litany for an end to the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has created a situation “almost without precedent” in the Church, he said.

The virus, formally known as COVID-19, has infected over 1.1 million people and killed 63,800 worldwide as of Saturday afternoon, according to figures from the John Hopkins University COVID-19 Map. In the U.S., about 274,000 have tested positive, 36,000 have been hospitalized, and 7,000 have died since the epidemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

More contagious and deadly than influenza, the virus has strained the resources of hospitals in the U.S. and worldwide. The virus has ravaged Italy and Italy's Catholics, whose dead include dozens of priests. It is especially deadly for the elderly and those with health conditions.

Many businesses and social activities deemed non-essential have been ordered closed by government authorities. Catholic churches closed, sometimes in advance of government orders, for fear of spreading the disease. The closures have caused major economic and social disruption, putting millions of people out of work.

The closure of churches and restrictions on the administration of the sacraments have been especially painful for some Catholics, a situation Gomez acknowledged.

“My brother bishops and I are painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments,” he said. “This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. 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,” he said.  

The Litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus draws on centuries-old Christian devotions. It asks mercy from the Heart of Jesus, describing it as the “glowing furnace of charity,” “rich to all who invoke thee,” “desire of the everlasting hills,” “source of all consolation,” “our life and resurrection,” “victim for our sins,” “salvation of those who hope in thee,” and “hope of those who die in thee.”

The indulgence applies to those who pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, pray for the intentions of the pope, are “truly sorry for their sins,” and desire to go to confession as soon as possible. In Catholic teaching, which recognizes that every sin must be purified on earth or in Purgatory, an indulgence remits “the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven.”

Gomez said we should ask the Virgin Mary to intercede for us, that God “might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.”

His April 3 message further reflected on the situation.

“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth,” he said. “As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus 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,” said Gomez. “Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.”

The Los Angeles archdiocese website has dedicated a web page to the Good Friday Sacred Heart litany and livestream.

Denver, Colo., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:30 pm (CNA).- An Iowa monastery of Trappist monks is offering an unusual but necessary act of charity amid the global pandemic - free caskets to financially struggling families who have lost a loved one.

New Melleray Abbey has been making caskets for the public and offering prayers for the deceased since 1999. The monastery announced last week its new initiative to support families affected by COVID-19.

“The COVID-19 virus will visit many families that are financially vulnerable and unprepared. In addition to their grief, they will wonder, ; ‘Where will we lay’ our loved one who has been unexpectedly taken from us,” Father Mark Scott, the order’s abbot, wrote in an announcement of the policy.

“To financially stressed families directly impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the monks of New Melleray offer free of charge pine caskets made from trees from the abbey forest,” he added.
 
New Melleray Abbey supports itself by building solid wood caskets made from fully matured trees harvested at the order’s acreage in Dubuque County, Iowa.

All of the donated caskets will be blessed and, as the order continues to pray for the deceased, the monks will send a card of remembrance to families on the first anniversary of the person’s death. The order also plants a tree for each casket made, as a living memorial.

Marjorie Lehmann, director of administration for New Melleray Abbey, told CNA that the order has already received a few requests for free caskets since the initiative was announced March 25.

“The free casket offer is a temporary measure designed to provide some financial relief to families who are undergoing financial distress because of COVID-19,” she said.

While the monks live a hidden life of prayer, she said, they are keenly aware of the current events. She said the order has provided this service to be close to the pandemic victims, and provide a service to those families facing financial difficulties as well.

“In the crisis of COVID-19, [they] make the offer of the casket as an expression of their solidarity with all those who are suffering because of the virus,” Lehmann said.

“They believe that it's a corporal work of mercy to bury the dead and … since they are a cloistered group of monks, this is how they can reach out to the world and help in a time of need.”

More than one million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus and more 50,000 have died. More than 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks, as mandatory lockdowns have forced numerous businesses and organizations to close their doors.  

Lehmann said the virus is a potential danger for anyone, noting that the full ramifications of the pandemic have yet to be seen.

“[It] could really be anyone who might be out of a job because their workplaces needed to close down because of this pandemic. It really could be anyone finding themselves in financial stress or needing that comfort of burying their loved one and a small part of relief in their life from a donated casket,” she said.

“[It’s] honoring someone's life, respecting the person that passes away is honoring that person's life and validating that person's life,” Lehmann added.

“People need people to show compassion. This is a very small gesture of something that a lot of people would need in this pandemic. So to be compassionate and know that people are not alone, that we're thinking of them, we're praying for them, and we're here to help in this manner. There's no reason not to do it.”

 

Phoenix, Ariz., Apr 4, 2020 / 12:01 pm (CNA).- Holy Week this year is going to look different for almost every Catholic in the United States.

On Palm Sunday, people will wave last year’s palms, or this year’s pine branches, or, if they’re lucky, palms from their parish, from the confines of their home instead of the pews of their parish. On Holy Thursday, feet will be washed by a family member, or not at all. For the veneration of the Cross, Catholics will kiss their personal crucifixes instead of lining up to kiss the crucifix at their parish. Candle-lit Easter Vigils will be celebrated by solitary priests livestreaming Mass from empty chapels.

It’s going to be different, and it’s going to be hard. That’s why a group of priests and laypeople at the Diocese of Phoenix compiled “A Journey Through Holy Week for Families”, an online flipbook resource to guide Catholic families through celebrating Holy Week from their homes.

“We had a meeting last week...specifically about Holy Week and how to enter into Holy Week knowing that we couldn't have public Masses at this time,” Fr. John Parks, the Vicar for Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix, told CNA. “We just thought - what are ways that we could really strengthen the family and invite the family to pray as the domestic Church?” he said.

“You're not going to be able to see the washing of the feet at Mass. So can we include a little rite from home that a family could do the washing the feet of their family members?” Parks said.

“Or on good Friday, again, you can't see or experience the veneration of the Cross at Mass, could we equip a family to do a little veneration of the Cross from home?”

After the brainstorming session, Parks’ colleague compiled all the readings, prayers and resources into a 150 page online “flipbook” for families. The books covers the Mass readings as well as prayers and other liturgically-themed activities from Palm Sunday through the Triduum and Easter Sunday, as well as the readings and resources for Divine Mercy Sunday, which comes eight days after Easter.

The online book includes links to videos that include everything from livestream Masses from St. Mary’s Cathedral in Phoenix to talks by Bishop Robert Barron to recordings of songs to sing during prayer time at home.

It also includes links to recipes, virtual pilgrimages, coloring pages for kids, a guide to cut out palms from green construction paper, and a Holy Thursday puppet show script.

“There is so much...there's all these different activities and songs you can play. So my only fear that it'd be a little overwhelming. But we’re trying to tell parents, just pick two or three things and have a little game plan for the day,” he said.

“So it’s like reading a playbook for sports - they don't run every play, you just pick the play that you think will help your team, so that's what we're thinking of.”

Parks said while he understands that this Holy Week will be different than what families are used to experiencing, he thinks that this is a special time of grace for families, who are acting as the domestic Church.

“I really believe that God is pouring out a grace now to strengthen the domestic Church in the family. And that there's a great thing poured out specifically for parents, to live deeper in their natural authority that they have over their children, to make them saints and to help them,” he said.

“This little book, it's like ‘ut vadat tecum’, in Latin, ‘to go with’ you. It goes with you. It's a tool that we hope to put in the hands of parents and pastors to help them equip families to walk through this week,” he said.

“That would be my desire, is that even though people can't participate in public liturgies, there's still a way to participate, to a lesser degree of course, but from the home. And I think for some families that might be unique. They've never done a washing of the feet. They've venerated the Cross. They've never prayed the Stations of the Cross in their own home. It can be a really beautiful moment of experiencing holy things in the home.”