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Updates about Sacrament of Reconciliation & Celebration of Palm Sunday during Pandemic

Due to Governor Pritzker's "Shelter in Place" order and Bishop Braxton's directives to be followed in the parishes in the Diocese of Belleville, Bishop Braxton stated, "In light of the executive order, please observe the following guidelines for the Sacrament of Reconciliation which is in effect until further notice."

Sacrament of Reconciliation - Given that our churches are closed and a stay-at-home order is in effect:

· individual confessions are currently not possible; this includes virtual or phone confessions, which are never permissible, nor drive-thru confessions. Despite the good intentions around such novelty, we must attend to our underlying theological tradition of the sacrament, as well as support the stay-at-home order and its intended purpose – to keep people safe in their homes at this time.

· in keeping with longstanding pastoral practice when penitents’ access to the sacrament is restricted, they can be assured that their sins are forgiven if they make an act of contrition with a firm resolve to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation after the stay-at-home order is lifted.

· the faithful should be encouraged to pray particular prayers or meditate on passages of the bible that you recommend to assist them in seeking the mercy and forgiveness of God and the grace of reconciliation.

We can serve our people well with pastoral tenderness if we recall for them that our Lord knows their hearts and desires to reconcile their lives to Him and He awaits their presence in the Sacrament once the stay-at-home order is lifted and our churches are re-opened.

In the new decree “In Time of COVID-19 (II),” issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the pandemic, there is a part: “Palm Sunday. The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entrance into Jerusalem in parish churches and in other places the third form is to be used. ” Using the third form in the Roman Missal, there is no instruction on the blessing of the palms. I would like to know if, according to the decree, parishioners in parish churches will not be able to receive the blessed palms this year since there is no blessing of palms in the third form of entrance for Palm Sunday. Second, is it allowed for a priest to bless the palms outside the Mass? Following the decree from the Congregation our Office of Worship does not include the Blessing of Palms.

Bishop Braxton has stated earlier that we are to set aside the palms and when the "Order of Shelter in Place" is lifted the Palms would be made available. With respect to the custom of keeping blessed palms at home, the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy comments on this practice:

“139. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, or ‘Passion Sunday,’ which unites the royal splendor of Christ with the proclamation of his Passion. “The procession, commemorating Christ’s messianic entry into Jerusalem, is joyous and popular in character. The faithful usually keep palm or olive branches, or other greenery which have been blessed on Palm Sunday in their homes or in their workplaces. “The faithful, however, should be instructed as to the meaning of this celebration so that they might grasp its significance. They should be opportunely reminded that the important thing is participation at the procession and not only the obtaining of palm or olive branches. Palms or olive branches should not be kept as amulets, or for therapeutic or magical reasons to dispel evil spirits or to prevent the damage these causes in the fields or in the homes, all of which can assume a certain superstitious guise. “Palms and olive branches are kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ, the messianic king, and in his Paschal Victory.”

In the light of the above, one can perhaps understand the internal logic of why the text of the decree excludes the blessing of palms in parish churches. Even if it were possible to guarantee a safe distribution of palms in a year when millions of Catholics are suffering the far greater deprivation of being able to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion, delaying the receiving of a blessed palm is a small sacrifice to pay in this very special Holy Week.

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