Tuesday 24 March 2020

Mass in the Time of Lockdown: Fr Luke's Top Ten Tips for Participating in a Virtual Mass

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! 

Saturday 21 March 2020

Coronavirus: Corona Catholicism and Corona-opportunities - A personal Reflection

Well, a lot has been happening in our world and in our country especially in this last week. If you told me a week ago that I had a week of public ministry left before we go on lockdown, I would have struggled to believe you. “Not in Lent surely!” It’s not that I didn’t think it wasn’t coming eventually, I just didn’t really want to think about it amid the daily pastoral demands and there was certainly enough to keep me busy!

Friday morning came of course, and I celebrated the last public Mass for the immediate and foreseeable future – it was painful, to say the least. It was moving to have a fuller church for a Friday morning Mass, but that Mass will go on my list of the handful occasions where I felt that I would nearly not get through the Mass. The people of God were, as ever, encouraging and the reverence and prayerfulness of Friday’s Mass were beautiful, never-the-less it was a sad and painful occasion for all of us.  

Now, however, we have to get on with things. The period that our Nation has moved into is unchartered territory. It seems to me, at least, that we have a choice: we can either moan, get angry and depressed and complain about the situation or we can learn to live with our new reality, accept it for what it is and learn how to flourish in these difficult times. Everyone will suffer in some greater or lesser way in the foreseeable future - this is happening to all of us. We need to let go of things that we thought gave our lives security, direction and meaning and use this time well to rediscover what is important and what is essential.

It’s not all doom and gloom: families will be forced in many cases to spend more time with each other. There is only so much TV and the Internet (if the broadband holds up) that people can cope with so at some point, people will have to relearn how to sit around a table and talk to each other, play games and read books! Of course, there will be many of us who are isolated, the sick, the elderly and those who, like me, live alone. So, it’s important that we connect with each other using all the technology and resources that are available.

As a priest I am struggling and will continue to struggle with the inability to do what my very life is given over to – the public celebration of the Eucharist and the public administering of the other sacraments, pastoral visits and generally all pastoral contact. It’s going to be difficult to be a shepherd to a virtual flock. Yet these are difficulties and struggles which all my brother priests and ministers are going to struggle with during this time and I feel a strange and new solidarity with my brothers already beginning to blossom.

As Catholics and as Christians the coronavirus time can be a real opportunity for us if we allow it. A time to foster a contemplative heart and re-discover and deepen our relationship with Jesus. A time to learn the value of silence, immerse ourselves in the Word of God and do all those spiritual things that we have “put-off” because we are just too busy.

There are lots of resources and courses online that can help us form our faith and nourish our relationship with Jesus, many are now being offered for free and at heavily discounted prices. Dr. Scott Hahn has put together The Quarantined Catholic Hub:  

And David Payne at Café (Catholic Faith Exploration) is offering lots of courses at discounted prices www.faithcafe.org
I am also streaming live Mass and prayers and content from our Facebook page www.facebook.com/bmrcparish
(10 am daily and 11 am on Sunday)

These are going to be different and difficult times for all of us, but let’s stay positive and most importantly let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ! Jesus is everything! In this time of isolation, I pray that we can relearn the important lesson that all our hope and trust should be placed in Him! We have been overly-comfortable and self-reliant as a people and a nation for a long time – may we learn and re-learn dependence on each other and dependence on God.  The coronavirus pandemic can be a great opportunity for all of us, and God will if we let him bring great fruit out of what to human eyes look like a disaster – and this, of course, is the substance of our faith. God brings hope out of despair, light out of darkness and resurrection out of death.