After several weeks of staying at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, parishes have been getting creative in remaining connected thanks to modern technology.
Many parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis have set up livestreamed Masses and other activities, including Stations of the Cross, praise and worship music, Bible study groups and ask the priest sessions. They’re often doing so on a shoestring budget, using free options such as Facebook Live, YouTube and Zoom to connect with parishioners.
At Immaculate Conception Parish in Union, pastor Father Joe Post set up a Facebook page for the parish and began livestreaming Masses daily from the rectory chapel shortly after Archbishop Robert J. Carlson suspended all public liturgies, including for Holy Week and beyond, in the archdiocese. Father Post has been offering daily Mass at 8 a.m. and a 10 a.m. Mass on Sundays.
“I am trying to stick to a relatively regular schedule for our people as much as possible,” he said. “Mentally and spiritually that’s a healthy thing to do.”
Father Post said that a normal weekday Mass would attract about 40-50 people, not including students from Immaculate Conception School. Online attendance at weekday Masses has exceeded that number at least tenfold. One of his first videos posted, which explained Archbishop Carlson’s directive to cancel the public celebration of Masses, has received more than 1,400 views.
People are commenting on the videos, he said. “That’s been very affirming for us priests. Some of them are giving the responses during Mass. It’s neat to see people are wanting to interact and that they miss that.”
Father Post ordered a new wifi signal booster in order to live stream from the church. Once social distancing guidelines are relaxed, he’d like to livestream Masses on a regular basis for those who are in nursing homes or otherwise cannot make it to Mass.
Father Post said he is edified by parishioners who are communicating to him their desire to receive the Eucharist, and he realizes how difficult it is for people not to be able to receive the sacrament for now. “People are asking, ‘Can’t I just sit in the back of church?’ ‘Can we do a drive-in Mass?’ People are coming up with all sorts of ideas,” he said.
A frequent critic of social media, Father Post said he’s also seen a lot of beauty in how people have used it to stay connected in positive ways. “Now you’re seeing timelines saturated with the sacraments — the Mass — and with prayer, hope and inspiration. That connection has become more meaningful, significant and worthwhile — and dare I say, sacred. That’s the silver lining in all of this.”
Of course, with anything offered as a livestream, there’s always a chance for bloopers. At the end of Mass one morning, Father Post wished everyone a good day, noting that it was going to be a beautiful day. As it turned out, it was raining heavily outside, unbeknownst to him. “My deacon and my secretary looked at me like, ‘Huh?’ I was trying to decide if that was the air conditioning or that was rain falling outside.”
Be Not Afraid
Father Post is one of numerous archdiocesan priests who are featured in videos on a new resource page developed by the archdiocese. The Be Not Afraid page (linked at archstl.org/coronavirus) highlights the creativity and ingenuity of priests as they collaborate with the Office of Worship and the Office of Evangelization and Discipleship in developing new ideas on how to reach out to the faithful of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. More than a dozen videos already have been posted at the page. The videos also are being shared on social media using the hashtag #CatholicSTL.
“We’re asking priests to submit encouraging messages to lift their spirits and give people hope and to let them know they’re not alone,” said Brian Miller, director of Evangelization and Discipleship for the archdiocese. “The priests are hurting and missing them too. Each message should end with them saying, your priests miss you, we’re praying for you and we encourage you and remind you to be not afraid. We’re asking them to speak into different topics or whatever inspires them.”
Miller said that the silver lining of the coronavirus outbreak has been an underscoring of the need for community. And that should extend beyond the Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that “The sacred liturgy does not exhaust the entire activity of the Church. It must be preceded by evangelization, faith, and conversion. It can then produce its fruits in the lives of the faithful: new life in the Spirit, involvement in the mission of the Church, and service to her unity” (CCC#1072).
“We can’t just be passive recipients of (the faith),” Miller said. “There’s an opportunity here to slow down. It’s important to get the message out there digitally but we also have to make it personable. The need to do things other than Mass is where evangelization comes in.”
At St. Joseph Parish in Imperial, Father Dan Shaughnessy and Father Tom Vordtriede have been prerecording Masses and posting them on the parish’s Facebook page. The two also have been recording short videos in which they’ve shared Scripture reflections, prayer — and even some good old-fashioned banter.
“The first night we were shut down, we did one pretty much on a whim,” Father Shaughnessy said. “We wanted to show a prayerful part to this but also some humor and hopefully humanity. The reception of it was so positive the first night decided to do it every night. It’s just a daily check in at the end of the day. Our parishioners miss us, but we miss them a whole lot more.”
Father Vordtriede said they usually choose a Scripture passage and then everything else flows from there. “Sometimes we get deep, sometimes it gets more fun — we don’t always know where it’s going to end up.”
The two are keeping it simple with the technology — Facebook and a phone, for the most part. “It’s incredible what you can do with your phone,” Father Shaughnessy said. He’s also noticed that if a video is posted later in the evening than usual, he starts getting emails from parishioners asking when they’re going to post another one.
“One night we didn’t do a prayer and blessing at the end, and we heard about it,” he said with a laugh. “It’s been very important to people, and it’s very edifying and humbling that people crave that. The daily connection is so important.”