The Value of Livestream Mass during COVID 19 Pandemic
By: K Vestermark, MA
It's been a struggle, let’s be real about this. Trying to live each day without being able to participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, not able to receive the Eucharist – it feels like a time of exile in the Church. And, in a sense, it is; but Mother Church is our guide, who at this time is once again the model of obedience and is asking us to follow her lead. Some of us will comply without question, others of us will call out our bishops and ask them to stand up and demand that worship be deemed essential, and still others will be complacent and possibly fall away because the habit was weakly or not fully formed in them at all.
In a time like this, all Catholics need a sense of connection with the Church.
With this in mind, I asked the question on social media about whether there was any value in viewing livestream Mass. I also asked about the responsibility of our pastors and priests to keep their parishioners not only informed of the teachings of the Church, but also spiritually nourished in the faith during this quarantine; and, in turn, what is the responsibility of the faithful to our priests/bishops? The response to my question was overwhelming leading me to consider the value of livestream Mass in light of the fourth commandment – assessing its value based on how we are meant to behave toward the Church and the Church’s responsibilities toward her flock.The fourth commandment states: Honor your Father and your Mother. What does that have to do with our responsibilities toward the Church and hers toward us? The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) teaches that this commandment is much more than that simple directive.
Let’s unpack the first part:
This commandment is expressed in positive terms of duties to be fulfilled. It introduces the subsequent commandments which are concerned with particular respect for life, marriage, earthly goods, and speech. It constitutes one of the foundations of the social doctrine of the Church. (CCC, 2198, emphasis added)
How does this pertain to the faithful and to our relationship with the Church? This passage begins by stressing the importance of the social doctrines of the Church; in other words, the Church provides a system by which we live in harmony within community which extends beyond the walls of the structure of the Church and provides for love of God through love of neighbor. We learn this basic social principle in our homes, our domestic church. During this time of pandemic, all we have available to us for worship in some cases is our domestic church along with virtual worship tools such as: Mass, daily prayers, Rosary, fireside chats, webinars, courses, etc. Based on a sampling I collected, many of the faithful are grateful for these additional offerings allowing for some prayerful interaction as a virtual community. For instance, Bob offered this:
Live streamed Mass and Divine Liturgy, Orthros, and Vespers have been my only way of staying in common prayer with others living in Christ. This is necessary for any of my own prayers in my domestic church of one to work.
And Jennifer echoed his words:
It keeps the community feel and a connection to the parish…I love that I can open [Social Media] and see Father [X] or Father [Y]. It’s just meant a lot and I hope they continue.
Bob and Jennifer are finding community and so are others. Virtual Mass is keeping them grounded in the faith and connected to their spiritual home. They are enlivening their domestic Church with the assistance of a virtual medium.
Laura, however, looked at the other side of this coin:
“I also believe our priests are doing their best to stay as connected to their parishioners as possible. I think our participation gives them encouragement.”
Potentially, this may be the more urgent aspect of the need to be in community; priests are sometimes one or two to a rectory, and in some places, they are even alone. Locked down during a pandemic with no one – solitary confinement. Suddenly parish priests find themselves cloistered. They need the parish community as much as the parish community needs them. Diocesan priests and religious weren’t meant to live in isolation. We need to look at the communal nature of the Mass and see livestream Mass as an antidote to loneliness for the congregation and for our priests.
God is allowing that the Mass be provided in a virtual manner to give us comfort, to bring us hope even if we can’t be there in person. The Mass offered in a “virtual manner” is not unique to our time; God has already provided this grace elsewhere in history.
Jeanne reminded me in answer to my question that this livestreamed Mass is nothing new under the sun:
When St. Clare could not physically attend Mass, God provided her Mass (via live stream) on the wall of her cell. St. Faustina and St. Therese were told by Jesus when they were physically unable to attend Mass that a humble spiritual Communion in a state of grace could be just as efficacious receiving Jesus physically.
The next section of this passage from the CCC on the fourth commandment requires us to consider how our responsibilities extend beyond our mother and father:“…likewise concerns the ties of kinship between members of the extended family. It requires honor, affection, and gratitude toward elders and ancestors. Finally, it extends to the duties of pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it” (CCC 2199).
We need to respect and be subordinate to those who have authority over us. We often don’t like to be told what to do; this shelter in place order, for instance, is beginning to grate on many of us who are typically rule followers. It’s not easy to remain isolated as I mentioned above, but it’s all the more distressing when it is enforced beyond our control. In this particular instance, we look to Mother Church and our spiritual fathers in the Church, her priests. Because the priest stands in persona Christi during the administration of the Sacraments, and because has been consecrated to the Church, we own him our respect and honor as our spiritual father. We must trust that what the priest says and does is for the good of our soul. And, sometimes, like a father who sees the needs of a child who may or may not be obedient, he repeats himself. What I mean is that it has been repeated frequently to the faithful who are watching that livestream Mass does not take the place of the Mass. Of course, it doesn’t; and this reminder can be frustrating to those of us who are just trying to return some order and discipline to our lives. But frustrating as it may be, it cannot be ignored that the duty of the priest is to look for the little lost sheep while the other 99 graze and take care of themselves. What most of us understand, the priest must repeat for the good of others who may not understand. It’s his responsibility toward his flock.
Here it is, the issue and why the point is reiterated: There is no sacramental grace available to the viewer in the livestream Mass, and it does not fulfill our obligation to attend Mass (of which we have all been dispensed – not even to view the livestream Masses being offered). We are not participating in the Mass as if we were there and the priest has the duty to make this clear to his flock so as not to have them misunderstand this livestream Mass as a substitute for attendance at Mass when it is restored. The priest is protecting his sheep from danger, especially those likely to stray and become lost. It is of grave concern, however, that while priests look to ensure their flock understands the purpose of a livestream Mass, that they don’t inadvertently discourage those who are seeking and finding through this medium. Livestream opportunities are a comfort to many, and to others, they can be a means of exploring God and his Church in anonymity. There is a great good taking place by making the Mass available via livestream. Thus, great care must be taken so as not to dissuade the members of the flock and others who are experiencing the nurturing effects of staying connected.
A priest from a local parish put a positive yet cautionary spin on livestream viewing before one of his daily Masses; he led with the fact there is grace in praying along with the livestream Mass and we should avail ourselves of it frequently, but that viewing a livestreamed Mass is by no means a replacement for actually being present and participating in the Mass. He took the opportunity to teach those who may have misunderstood the objective of livestreaming the Mass; at the same time, he also provided a source of comfort and encouragement to the all who were viewing. The priest, in sharing via livestream his daily obligation to say the Mass, extends this Sacred duty by bringing Christ into our domestic churches allowing all who at this time cannot be physically present to hear the Word, witness the Consecration, make a spiritual communion and provide a means of prayer and reflection.
Madeleine expressed it this way:
While we come together as best we can through virtual [livestream] Mass, I believe through the act of bringing our bodies and souls, even in front of the television and even if not live in a church, this act fortifies our relationship with God, even if not as powerfully as the real thing.
A connection is made in witnessing of livestream Mass that can’t be ignored and ought to be encouraged, especially now when the faithful are removed from participation.
Maryan, whose family member is a priest, said this:
Father told us that watching live Masses imparts grace, but also seeing my beloved (from a very great distance) is good for my soul. Homilies are edifying as well.
And Claire added:
I believe this pandemic has pointed out spiritual eyes back to the family and the “Domestic Church” and for us it’s important to maintain that semblance of ritual that we have never been denied before. Since Lent we had added several things and have increased them further during this quarantine.
The longing for God and His sacraments will build a stronger, more faith-filled and connected flock upon our return to true Communion; of this, I have no doubt.
There is a real benefit to having the Mass available livestreamed online every day, everywhere, if for no other reason than it brings hope and creates a holy longing for the Mass.
The closing paragraph on the fourth commandment tells us:Respecting this commandment provides, along with spiritual fruits, temporal fruits of peace and prosperity. Conversely, failure to observe it brings great harm to communities and to individuals (CCC, 2200)
While we wait for public worship to be restored, we know that the sacramental graces are being received by our priests, deacons and seminarians who are, in turn, offering those graces for us! We are being recommended to the Father through the grace of the Mass – we are a gift being offered, the faithful who cannot partake. We are, in our obedience and love of the Church and her sacraments receiving spiritual and temporal fruits. These great riches available would be lost to us without the efforts of the priests who provide the Mass to us in some form, and by our own efforts to be witness to them. And, won’t it be the richest reward here on Earth, the day that we can enter back in?
Maria Elena put it this way:The live stream Mass makes me long for our Eucharistic Lord more. This virus made me realize how much I took Jesus for granted in the past and made me sorrowful. I never imagined that He would be taken from us. I will never think the live-stream Mass is good enough....I will run to our Lord when the public Mass is re-instated.
Running to Our Lord, what a beautiful image and also a poignant reminder the we are separated from the Eucharist. The ability to view the Sacrifice of the Mass virtually via livestream serves to increase our desire for the One we cannot receive. Maria Elena also found that it added a sense of the normal to very abnormal circumstance, especially for her son with special needs:
Watching my own parish, brings me comfort when we cannot be together. My son with autism loves hearing "our" priests' voices and [it] gives him comfort and a sense of normalcy.
I think this is all summed up beautifully in a prayer written by St. Thomas Aquinas:Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.
St. Thomas was speaking to his Father in heaven, entrusting himself to Him and longing deeply to be in His company. It is with great joy that we avail ourselves of this opportunity in our current exile from the Eucharist to at least be near Our Lord and Savior spiritually by means of livestream Masses. Understood through the lens of the fourth commandment, we see in this temporary practice our duty toward the Church and hers toward the faithful. Based on the comments I received, the consensus was clearly that the faithful can serve God through trust, virtual presence, and obedience; and in doing so, receive myriad graces. At the same time, the Church, through her priests and deacons offering the Mass and sharing it livestream over social media, serve as a reminder of the beauty and sacramental grace to be ours again soon. They send us blessings with their prayers. A sincere thank you to our dear priests for making the Mass available via livestream – we are grateful for this and all your efforts to serve us while we must be away.
US Correspondent to Catholic News World - Kathryn Vestermark lives in Northern Virginia and is a wife and mother of six children, one with significant special needs. She worked for 13 yrs. in medical education at USUHS on a project to include families of children with special needs as faculty and advisors to medical education. She received her MA in Theology from Catholic Distance University, where she teaches.