By Barb Arland-Fye
Before we began our smartphone Bible study on The Letter to the Hebrews last Sunday, my uncle Joe told me that he went to Mass that morning via Facebook Live. Joe belongs to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City, Maryland, in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, where Archbishop William Lori cancelled all public Masses effective March 14 because of the COVID-19 pandemic (coronavirus).
Joe’s parish broadcast the 9 a.m. Mass in real time (livestream) with two priests, a deacon, a lector and choir members celebrating Mass in an otherwise empty church building. “We would never have expected this to take place a month ago,” the homilist said. “With the coronavirus closings and many changes … we’re adapting to the best of our ability by the grace of God, trying to act in prudence and make decisions for your good and the good of this church.”
“Honestly, I feel a little like Moses in the first reading,” the homilist continued. “A little bit more and the people will stone me. Not me specifically, but the staff. The flack we received in what we’re trying to do … we need God’s love and mercy here, not anger and frustration. Are we offended by the changes that took place or do we allow Jesus into this encounter and let him rule the day?”
Joe loved the Mass and said he appreciated the connection with his own pastor and parish. When the choir sang, “I sang along with them,” he said. The responsorial psalm, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts,” resonated with Joe.
At the start of the Mass, Joe felt called by name, literally. A staffer from the parish welcomed him in the comment box. Other parishioners participating online tapped out messages of encouragement and appreciation to the clergy and other ministers at the Mass and a profusion of small hearts floated into the comment box at the consecration of the Eucharist, Joe said.
“If we have to go through this isolation, at least we can keep in contact with our church,” Joe told me. “We have the tools — the Internet, Facebook and other social media — if this (coronavirus crisis) continues.”
I asked him what he thought might happen if the coronavirus crisis continues through Holy Week. Joe said he will continue to participate in and support Mass online for as long as that remains necessary. He asked me, “Can you imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have social media?”
He has a point. However, I worry about the acceleration of social distancing and isolation, unintended consequences of social media. Also, I long to receive the Eucharist – “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324).
“As Catholics, the Sunday Eucharist is at the heart of who we are,” Bishop Thomas Zinkula says in the introduction to a “Sunday Prayer at Home” booklet that the Diocese of Davenport has produced. “So to miss gathering with our brothers and sisters, to not be able to listen to the word proclaimed, and to not be able to receive the Eucharist is deeply painful. Yet, we are a people of hope.”
“And the ties that bind us together transcend time and space. So, in this time, I invite all of us to join together in prayer. Take advantage of Masses which are televised, streamed on-line, or broadcast by radio. Use this booklet, whether as individuals or households, to unite yourself with other Catholics around our diocese. Above all else, do not despair. You are not alone. The Church is with you. And, most importantly, God our compassionate Father, Christ our Savior, and the Consoler, the Spirit, is with you.”
Uncle Joe and I eventually returned to our Lenten discussion about The Letter to the Hebrews. I left our discussion with a deeper appreciation for Hebrews and an even greater appreciation for the church I love.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at email@example.com)