TORONTO -- For most of the world's major religions, this is one of the most important times of the year.

The Christian, Jewish and Muslim calendars all include major holidays in the next few weeks. Ramadan starts April 23. Passover begins Wednesday. And Sunday marked the beginning of the Christian holy week, which leads into Easter on April 12.

It's a time when places of worship around the world would normally be packed. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing measures, however, many churches, mosques and synagogues have closed their doors to the public.

"When you look out into an empty church, as we've been doing now for several weeks, it's just so sad," Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Toronto, told CTV News’ Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme Sunday on a CTV News special report.

Live broadcasts of religious services over the internet have become increasingly popular around the world among those who are waiting out the pandemic at home. Collins' daily masses are livestreamed. So was Pope Francis' Sunday service in Vatican City, where the pontiff broke with centuries of tradition by not holding the Palm Sunday mass in front of the public.

"The mass does not stop. We pray for the people every single day, and people join in, in a certain way, through livestream," Collins said.

Historically, government directives to halt religious services have often been a means of oppressing religious minority groups. For that reason, those edicts are often met with resistance.

This time is different, Collins said, because it is clear that the orders are not "persecution" but instead what he described as "a sensible reason" to close down.

"It's a time when we are face-to-face with the important realities of life and death," he said.

Religious life has been uprooted by the pandemic, and so have religion's rituals of death. Many jurisdictions hit hard by the coronavirus have clamped down on all public gatherings, including funerals.

Newfoundland and Labrador banned all public funerals and wakes after authorities determined that one funeral home in St. John's was responsible for approximately 75 per cent of all known COVID-19 cases in the province. Collins said he knows one family in northern Italy that was unable to attend the funeral of a deceased relative and had just been sent the relative's ashes.

Ontario, where Collins works, has not fully banned funerals but has limited attendance at them to a maximum of 10 people at a time. Even that, Collins said, has caused feelings of discomfort.

"We can't have what we should have – these rites of mourning. We'll offer the funeral mass at a time when we're able to get together to do that, but right now we simply pray for them," he said.

Prayer is an option for Collins, as it is for any religious person, but the cardinal also offered secular advice when asked what Canadians should do with the time they are now spending at home, worried about the pandemic.

"I would think [we] need to use it to think, to pray, to maybe find creative ways to reach out to people who are lonely, people in need, to find some practical way of helping people," he said.

That help and care can come from a phone call or message, he said, but is also being shown in a counter-intuitive way by the tens of millions of Canadians who are doing everything they can to avoid physical connections.

"Now is a time when we are forced, for reasons of care for our neighbour, to stay home," he said.

"We're meant to be social. We're meant to live in community. When that's ripped away from us for very sensible health reasons … it really makes us think how much we really need it and how much we took it for granted when we could just go out and have a coffee with someone."