Churches employ nontraditional methods to observe Holy Week
FOLLANSBEE — Members of St. Anthony Catholic Church are among many Christians finding new ways to observe Easter and other events of Holy Week while complying with recommendations to avoid gathering to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
On Thursday morning, Franco DiVenanzo, a custodian at the church, set about posting the Stations of the Cross along the hillside overlooking the church and Jefferson Street.
The Stations of the Cross, a series of images depicting Jesus Christ’s path to crucifixion, normally are posted inside the church but the Rev. Jude Perera wanted parishioners to be able to be able to stop at each for a moment of prayer.
The practice is a tradition often observed on Good Friday, when Christians remember the crucifixion and prepare for a celebration of his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Perera said the holiday and Holy Week, the days leading up to it, are key events in the Catholic church calendar and many parishioners miss observing them at their church.
But he and many other clergy are finding other ways, including the internet, to help Christians with worship.
Through St. Anthony’s Facebook page, church members and others were encouraged to gather as a family for a meal on Holy Thursday, as Christ did with his disciples and further imitating the actions of Christ, wash each other’s feet.
The act is seen as a sign of Christ’s humility.
Members of the church also have been invited to view the cross displayed in the church’s front entrance while staying at least 6 feet apart from each other.
Leaders of Wellsburg United Methodist Church have announced plans to move a large cross within the church outside so members can carry on the tradition of placing fresh flowers on it, in Christ’s honor, on Easter morning.
A few area churches continue to offer drive-in services in their parking lots, where attendees listen to sermons, music and other aspects of worship on their car radios.
And many clergy have turned to livestreaming services through the internet or posting recorded sermons on Facebook pages. It’s an approach taken by some prior to the pandemic and embraced by many more since.
Members of St. Anthony Catholic Church are among parishioners who have been invited to send photos of themselves to be positioned in pews while clergy perform services they view while at home.
Perera said parishioners miss closer contact with fellow church members and their churches, and he and other clergy try to fill that void.
“I have the picture directory (of members) and I use that when I pray for them, and I also call to check on them,” he said.
Perera is separated from family members, like many, but in his case, it’s many miles away.
He is from Sri Lanka, where the virus is not as prevalent, with about 180 confirmed cases among about 21.6 million people, but still a concern.
Perera said while church members may be apart from each other, they are never far from God.
“We should have hope. Hope is the message of Easter. When everything was dark and negative because of the death of Jesus, people challenged him to come down from the cross,” he said.
“God answered that challenge with the resurrection. We also have to wait and see with the sure hope that he will never abandon us.”