This week the country has gone into complete lockdown and Catholic communities everywhere have discovered a new phenomenon: live-streamed Mass. In many ways, we are so fortunate that this pandemic and subsequent lockdown is happening in the 21st Century where many of us have access to high-speed broadband, computers, tablets, and smartphones. It is sad of course that we are in this situation at all, especially as we prepare to celebrate the Easter liturgies.Never-the-less technology enables us to maintain a degree of communion in our communities that, at other times, would be incredibly difficult. Sadly, of course, this is not true for all people. I am deeply aware that there a significant number of parishioners in my parish who are at a technological disadvantage. It’s important that within the constraints that we find ourselves in we continue to support them the best we can.
Concerning live streaming the Eucharist (broadcasting via the internet) I think the first thing to be said is that it is not and can never be a full substitute for being physically present at Mass. Being virtually present is not the same as being physically present. Having said this, of course, it is perfectly possible to be physically present at Mass and be so pre-occupied that you are not actually present. What is of crucial importance always when we attend Mass, however that happens, is that we try to be present to God and each other. We take time to stop and remind ourselves that we are in the presence of God and participating in the act of sublime worship. Virtual Masses are not the solution to everything, but in the situation, we find ourselves in they are the next best thing, at least they can be - if we allow ourselves to enter fully into the celebration.
The Mass is always the action of the whole Church, so wherever it is celebrated, whether that is with one or a million people it is the whole Church, in communion with each other, that is offering the Mass. This is true with or without live streaming the Mass. What the streaming does, of course, is bring a degree of virtual proximity to a specific celebration which can help the members of the Church to engage more fully, even remotely, with this central mystery of our faith.
The Eucharist (Mass) remains the source and summit - the beginning and end of our faith because it is the re-presentation of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Jesus died, reconciling us with the Father and this event happened once in time, but through the Eucharist the Holy Spirit allows us to transcend time and space and be ‘plugged-in’ as it were, to Jesus’ eternal sacrifice. Whether we can receive communion or not we experience the grace and fruits of Jesus' sacrifice in our world and in our lives. This is why the Mass is continually being celebrated for the Church and for the world, every Mass is, a sense, like a portal, a floodgate opening up from Calvary and allowing the grace, mercy, the power of God to flood out and transform us. Priests across the world are offering Masses continually and the fruits of Jesus' death on the cross are continually flowing out from these altars and communities.
Taking part in a virtual Mass can help us to keep the Eucharist, and thus Christ at the center of our lives. Like anything, however, the extent to which it will be fruitful in our own lives depends in no small part on us, so here are my top ten tips to help you participate in Virtual Masses!
1. Read the Sunday readings beforehand and pray with them during the week. Many people do this already and this is good to do anyway if you were coming to Mass physically on a Sunday or joining us through the internet.
2. Make a Spiritual Communion – Jesus can’t be received sacramentally via the internet but he can always be received in spirit (I lead this prayer at Communion at the Masses I stream and invite participants to say the prayer along with me at home)
3. Keep the Eucharistic Fast: The Church asks that we prepare for Holy Communion by not eating or drinking anything (except water) for a minimum of one hour before Holy Communion. Although you will be making a spiritual Communion and so technically this fast is not needed, it might be a fruitful way of preparing yourself, ahead of time, for spiritual participation at Mass.
4. Set up an altar/focus for prayer in your house. If possible, prepare a space where you can drape a cloth over a table, light some candles - if you are streaming to a portable device (laptop, phone/tablet) you could put this near or behind the altar
5. If you have space in your house (corner of a room/spare bedroom) set up a prayer space and ‘go to Mass’ in this room
6. If you have young children, consider doing your own children’s liturgy with them during the liturgy of the word.
7. Turn off phones (that you are not using to stream!) set notifications to silent turn off radios and TV’s on other parts of the house
8. Make sure you participate: i.e. don’t just watch but say the responses at the correct points
9. Send in Mass Intentions and ask for prayers to be included in the Mass
10 Invite friends (virtually) to stream along with you and participate in the Mass at the same time. Knowing that your friends and family in their own houses are participating in the same Eucharist and watching the same live feed can be enormously encouraging, especially in this time of social isolation.
Hope these are helpful. I stream Mass daily at 10 am and 11 am on Sundays via www.facebook.com/bmrcparish Hope to see you (albeit virtually!) at Mass!