The Vatican announced that its traditional Easter week celebrations, led by Pope Francis and normally attended by thousands, will this year be held without the presence of worshippers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“All the Liturgical Celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful,” the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household, which, among other things, organizes official audiences with the pope, announced in a March 15 statement.
“Furthermore, this Prefecture informs that until April 12, the General Audiences and the Angelus presided over by the Holy Father will be available only in live streaming on the official Vatican News website.”
Pope Francis was scheduled to begin Holy Week on April 5, with Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square, followed by Chrism Mass on April 9 in St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which he has typically held in detention centers or with asylum-seekers.
Good Friday’s commemoration of the Lord’s Passion; and the Easter Vigil on April 11, will all be celebrated by the pope without the public, according to Catholic News Agency.
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across Italy, Pope Francis has significantly reduced his public appearances, instead live streaming early morning Mass, Wednesday General Audiences, and Sunday Angelus. The Vatican Museums have also been closed until April 3 as a precautionary measure.
The Vatican’s decision to livestream Easter week celebrations comes after health officials in Italy on March 13 announced that 250 people had died of coronavirus in a single day across the country, bringing the death toll to 1,266. They also confirmed 15,000 cases of the virus, making it the worst-affected country in the world outside of mainland China, but noted that 1,439 people have recovered so far.
Silvio Brusaferro, the head doctor in the country’s health agency, said the majority of the patients who have died from COVID-19 are over the age of 80.
“The peak of mortality is between 80 to 89 years,” he said, according to state-backed ANSA. As of March 15, 24,747 cases of the virus have been reported along with 1,809 deaths, while 2,335 are said to have recovered.
In recent weeks, Italy has extended its emergency coronavirus measures in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, placing more than 60 million people under lockdown and introducing travel restrictions. The country has also put a ban on all public gatherings, including funerals and weddings, while theaters, gyms, and pubs have been shut down. Schools and universities also will remain closed until April 3, according to The Guardian.