Cardinal Collins' Letter on Holy Week During the COVID-19 Pandemic



Dear Father,

In this time of tribulation, we as priests of Jesus Christ, are all the more called to deepen our exercise of this sacred ministry to the glory of God and the service of His people. Each day we do this through the celebration of the Eucharist even when it is not possible for the people to be present. We also do this through the celebration of the Liturgy of Hours in which we pray for God’s people as their priests, and I strongly encourage every priest to spend at least an hour before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer for the people.

We are approaching the most sacred time of the year. It is essential that, in every parish in the diocese, the ceremonies of Holy Week and Easter proceed even though adapted to the restrictions required at this time.

Due to the current pandemic, the liturgical celebration of the paschal mysteries of Holy Week, the Triduum and Easter will be celebrated without the physical participation of the faithful. The following instruction outlines how these liturgies are to be celebrated in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael, and in all parish churches throughout the Archdiocese of Toronto. Religious communities are to determine for themselves the most appropriate ways to proceed, but are to model their liturgies on what is set here for parishes:

Palm Sunday - Sunday, April 5, 2020:

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael:

  • The liturgy of Palm Sunday will begin at 10:00 a.m., and will be livestreamed so that the faithful may prayerfully unite themselves in their homes to the celebration of the liturgy.
  • The liturgy will commence with the blessing of palms, the proclamation of the Gospel and the Solemn Entrance, but without the procession of palms. Blessed palms will be distributed at a later date.
  • Present at the liturgy will be the priests of the Cathedral parish.
  • The liturgy will proceed in the usual way.


At parish churches:

  • At a suitable time, the pastor accompanied (as applicable) by his associate pastor(s), or resident priest(s), will begin the liturgy of Palm Sunday with the blessing of palms, the proclamation of the Gospel and Solemn Entrance, but without the procession of palms. The liturgy will then proceed in the usual way. Blessed palms will be distributed at a later date.


The Mass of Chrism - Tuesday, April 7, 2020:

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael:

  • The Mass of Chrism will begin at 10:00 a.m., and will be livestreamed so that the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the archdiocese will have an opportunity to prayerfully unite themselves in their homes to the celebration of the liturgy.
  • Present at the liturgy will be the priests of the Cathedral parish.
  • The liturgy will include the blessing of Holy Oils, which will be distributed at a later date.


The Mass of the Lord’s Supper - Thursday, April 9, 2020:

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael:

  • The Mass of the Lord’s Supper will begin at 7:00 p.m., and will be livestreamed so that the faithful may prayerfully unite themselves in their homes to the celebration of the liturgy.
  • Present at the liturgy will be the priests of the Cathedral parish.
  • The washing of feet will be omitted.
  • At the end of the Holy Mass, the Blessed Sacrament will be reposed in the tabernacle. There will not be a procession to a special place of reposition.


At parish churches:

  • At a suitable time in the evening, the pastor accompanied (as applicable) by his associate pastor(s), or resident priest(s) will begin the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.
  • The washing of feet will be omitted.
  • At the end of the Holy Mass, the Blessed Sacrament will be reposed in the tabernacle. There will not be a procession to a special place of reposition.
  • Priests who will be unable to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper are to pray the Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Day


Good Friday - April 10, 2020:

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael:

  • The Good Friday Passion of the Lord will begin at 3:00 p.m., and will be livestreamed so that the faithful may prayerfully unite themselves in their homes to the celebration of the liturgy.
  • Present at the service will be the priests of the Cathedral parish.
  • Following the special decree of March 19 from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, special prayers will be said “for the sick, the dead, for those who feel lost or dismayed.”


At parish churches:

  • At the usual time of 3:00 p.m., the pastor accompanied (as applicable) by his associate pastor(s), or resident priest(s) will begin the liturgy for Good Friday.
  • Special prayers are to be said “for the sick, the dead, for those who feel lost or dismayed.”


The Easter Vigil - Saturday, April 11, 2020:

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael:

  • The Easter Vigil will begin at 7:00 p.m., and will be livestreamed so that the faithful may prayerfully unite themselves in their homes to the celebration of the liturgy.
  • Present at the liturgy of the Vigil will be the priests of the Cathedral parish.
  • At the Solemn Beginning of the Vigil, the lighting of the fire is omitted. 
  • The Paschal Candle is to be lit in the sanctuary. The procession with the Paschal Candle is omitted. The Exsultet then follows immediately, and the Vigil proceeds in the usual way.
  • The renewal of baptismal promises is to replace the baptismal liturgy.
  • The rite of baptism and the reception of baptized Christians is to be deferred to a later time.


At parish churches:

  • At a suitable time in the evening, the pastor accompanied (as applicable) by his associate pastor(s), or resident priest(s) will begin the liturgy of the Easter Vigil.
  • At the Solemn Beginning of the Vigil, the lighting of the fire is omitted. 
  • The Paschal Candle is to be lit in the sanctuary. The procession with the Paschal Candle is omitted. 
  • The Exsultet then follows immediately, and the Vigil proceeds in the usual way.
  • The renewal of baptismal promises is to replace the baptismal liturgy.
  • The rite of baptism and the reception of baptized Christians is to be deferred to a later time.


Easter Sunday - April 12, 2020:

At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Michael:

  • The Mass for Easter Sunday will begin at 10:00 a.m., and will be livestreamed so that the faithful may prayerfully unite themselves in their homes to the celebration of the liturgy.
  • Present at the Mass will be the priests of the Cathedral parish.
  • Special prayers will be said for those affected by the current pandemic, for our religious and government leaders, and for the dead.


At parish churches:

  • At a suitable time, the pastor accompanied (as applicable) by his associate pastor(s), or resident priest(s), will celebrate the Mass of Easter Sunday.
  • Special prayers are to be said for those affected by the current pandemic, for our religious and government leaders, and for the dead.
Preparation for the sacred time of Holy Week, the Triduum and Easter

Sacrament of Reconciliation: The only ordinary way of attaining forgiveness for sins is participating in individual and integral confession and absolution. Nevertheless, if a person is unable to make an appointment with a priest for the Sacrament during the current pandemic, it will suffice for the moment to pray the Act of Contrition as best as one can intending it truthfully, and to commit to participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as possible when conditions allow. There will be no permission granted for General Absolution.

Resources - Devotions and scripture readings – to assist the faithful during these sacred days, we will make available, a variety of resources at: www.archtoronto.org/covid19 - these will include the following:

  • The Holy Rosary
  • The Stations of the Cross
  • The Act of Contrition
  • The scripture readings for the various liturgies
  • The Office of Readings for the various days in Holy Week, the Triduum and on Easter Sunday
  • (For parishes) Instruction from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops re: Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults in extraordinary circumstances


May God bless you always and sustain you in your sacred ministry of serving God’s people.

In Christ,

Thomas Cardinal Collins
Archbishop of Toronto

Extraordinary Urbi et Orbi Blessing from Pope Francis on March 27

Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ address during the extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing he delivered while praying for an end of the coronavirus.


“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.
It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”? Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).
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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pope Francis will offer an extraordinary blessing of Urbi et Orbi on Friday, March 27, 2020 at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (6 p.m. Rome time). 
All those who are present for the blessing via TV, radio or the internet, and who are truly sorry for their sins, can have the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence.
The Urbi et Orbi blessing (which means “to the city of Rome and to the world”) is performed from the balcony to St. Peter’s Square when a new pope is elected and on Christmas and Easter Sunday. On this occasion, St. Peter’s Square will be empty as Italy is in lockdown because of coronavirus.
Vatican News reports that the ceremony will:
“Consist in readings from the Scriptures, prayers of supplication, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; and will conclude with Pope Francis giving the Urbi et orbi blessing.”
Catholics in the Archdiocese of Toronto can watch the Urbi et Orbi blessing live on Salt+Light TV this Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Time (click here for information on how to watch Salt+Light).
To read the decree, click here