It is one of the holiest weeks of the year, with Passover beginning Wednesday night and Easter falling this Sunday. But with the cloud of the coronavirus hovering over our heads, the majority of traditional gatherings will be online.
Virtual Passover Seders and Easter Mass have adapted to past pandemics, with worshippers praying from their windows or standing by windows to hear the prayers, according to Time. In fact, as medical knowledge about disease transmission grew throughout the ages, many religious adaptations in the past resemble what we are now referring to as social distancing.
For example, in 1918 public health officials limited religious gatherings to prevent the transmission of the Spanish Flu. In Washington D.C., some churches held services outdoors that fall thinking better ventilation could stymie the transmission of the deadly flu virus, but health officials banned those also, according to Time.
During the more recent SARS epidemic in 2003, churches limited traditions during Holy Week and Easter Sunday services. Churchgoers were advised not to kiss the cross, share cups of wine, or use a confession booth. In Hong Kong, the Roman Catholic diocese urged priests to wear surgical masks.
This year, according to the Deseret News, 70% of Americans plan to celebrate Easter strictly at home, but despite the concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, 56% of those surveyed said they would attend a religious service if it were offered in their community.
While many areas have banned gatherings of more than 10 people, including religious services, many states, including Ohio and Pennsylvania have exempted religious organizations from forced closures, according to the Deseret News.
On the plus side, a survey conducted by WalletHub showed the coronavirus pandemic has made Americans more grateful for their family, for their health, and for their freedom. Almost half of Easter-celebrating Americans are skipping out on candy, new outfits, and Easter food, putting their focus on gratitude and safety rather than spending.
And holidays can also offer worshippers a way to practice their faith by serving others and reaching out to the sick. In 1989, Rabbi Jerome Epstein hosted a New York City Passover seder for Jewish people with AIDS right at the height of the AIDS crisis.
One attendee, Ken Myerson, said the service gave him "hope," according to Time.
While religions might differ by their practices and beliefs, hope is at the core of this season. When Pope Francis gave a blessing to the world in an empty St. Peter's Square on March 27, he offered a message of optimism about facing COVID-19.
"The strength of faith frees us from fear and gives us hope," he said.
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