By Father Christopher Heanue
Inspired by last week’s editorial, “As The Tablet Sees It,” I decided to record some of my own impressions about live-streaming Masses during the pandemic. Perhaps we could name it: “As Father Chris Heanue Sees It”!
The pandemic has truly exposed many weaknesses in our society, nation, local governments, businesses, and even Church institutions. For instance, many parishes have realized that we may not have the most accurate records for all of our parishioners. Some of our databases lack email addresses or phone numbers. This makes it very difficult to connect with parishioners outside of the “normal” Sunday Mass times.
Thankfully, however, many parishes at least have Facebook pages that are active and engaging. This past December, my parish, Holy Child Jesus in Richmond Hill, joined efforts with a neighboring parish, Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. After only a few short months of this new partnership, the pandemic hit. Gratefully, the priests of the parish have been able to telephone parishioners of both parishes to invite them to join our new Facebook page: “Richmond Hill Catholic.”
This especially allows parishioners to unite on a digital platform to access our live-streamed Masses and other content.
The Exciting Possibilities
Like many of my brother priests, I have received many messages thanking us for streaming Masses online during the pandemic. Parishioners miss their churches, their priests, and their fellow Mass-goers. Even many former parishioners have benefitted from these live-streams. There is something about watching Mass from one’s “home parish” that is special.
I received an email from a woman in Florida who was a faithful parishioner of Holy Child Jesus for many years. She described her joy at being able to reconnect with her “home parish” during this time of great uncertainty. Closer to home, Mrs. Rita Werner, a 95-year-old matriarch of Holy Child Jesus, had not been able to attend Mass in recent months because of physical limitations. For over 80 years she has called Holy Child Jesus her spiritual home.
Now, through the means of social media, she can re-connect in some way with her spiritual home. Even some of my cousins in Ireland have been streaming my Sunday Masses.
Live-streamed Masses also give us an opportunity to “SHARE” our faith with those who might not otherwise connect with our parishes. By pressing “SHARE” on one’s Facebook page, one can invite friends to witness the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the riches of our Catholic faith. On a typical Sunday, Holy Child Jesus welcomes nearly 1,300 people to our five Sunday Masses. During the pandemic, our two live-streamed Masses (one English, one Spanish) have been viewed almost 2,500 times each Sunday.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that every celebration of the Mass is infinitely valuable since it is the representation of the sacrifice of Christ Himself. This is true of an opulent papal Mass with tens of thousands of participants in St. Peter’s Square as well as a simple Mass celebrated by a priest with no other person present. However, from a purely human perspective, I find it sad to celebrate Mass in an empty church. It is especially difficult to preach in this context since there is no way to gauge the reactions of the faithful to my message.
Moreover, to paraphrase last week’s editorial, the sacraments cannot be received virtually. Those who watch a live-stream may be able to unite their hearts to the celebration of Mass taking place. However, they cannot participate in the most perfect way possible by receiving Holy Communion. For all their benefits, modern means of communication cannot give the faithful what they need most: the sacraments of the Church.
Many priests, myself included, are now pondering whether to continue to live-stream Masses once the pandemic is over. Of course, we must ensure that everyone understands that watching a live-stream of a Mass is no substitute for the real thing. However, “Richmond Hill Catholic” will probably continue to stream some Masses. We will seek to continue to use technology to preach the Gospel and to invite others to experience the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of our faith.
Thanks be to God, technology offers us many opportunities to stay connected with one another and with our Catholic faith. We’ll see you online! @RHCatholic
Father Heanue is the administrator of Holy Child Jesus Church and manages the pastoral care of St Benedict Joseph Labre Church, both located in Richmond Hill.