26May Streamed Masses: A good or a bad idea?

Streamed Masses: A good or a bad idea

Tony Flannery

Streamed, or televised Masses have become a feature of this time of virus. I am suggesting in this article, published in this week’s Connaught Tribune, that maybe it is a step backwards:

All the indications are that this virus will be with us for some considerable time, and that we have got to learn to live with it. From a Church point of view there is no indication that we will be able to gather for religious services any time soon. In the meantime Masses will continue to be streamed, with apparently many people joining online.

I have a couple of reservations about this development of online Masses. Pope Francis has been consistently urging the Church to break away from clericalism, the excessive power and control that the clerical branch has over the whole Church. Online Masses are a reversal to the centrality of the priest, with the people accompanying him as spectators. The online Mass is totally the action of the priest, so that the community dimension, a vital part of the Mass, is completely absent. It is going back to the Masses of our youth, back in the first half of the last century. I think this is, in the long run, bad theology and bad practice.

In my later years I have come more strongly to believe that God, or the Divine Presence as I prefer to express it, is not in some heavenly dwelling far away from us, or indeed locked in a tabernacle, but is instead at the heart and centre of the whole of creation, of the universe. I also believe that creation was not a historical event, but is instead a continuing reality, guided by the Divine Spirit. In other words, God is not distant from us, but is within us and around us in every aspect of creation, guiding the whole evolutionary process to what Teilhard de Chardin called the Omega Point, which he interpreted as the ultimate triumph of Love. Central to our Christian understanding is that God is Love.

I think that during this time the Church is missing a great opportunity to help people to come to know this Divine Presence in a deeper way. Where I am currently cocooning, down at the end of the garden there is a large apple tree covered with apple blossoms like I have never seen it before. Or is it that they were there other years, but I didn’t take the time to notice and to embrace them? The blackcurrant tree is showing signs of producing an abundant harvest in a month or two. I must learn how to make jam. In my little vegetable space the onions are all peeping up, and the lettuce are showing promise in the window boxes. One of the real pleasures is to walk out in the garden in the morning or evening time, and listen to the singing of the birds. The Divine Presence is all around us, and the beautiful weather with which we have been blessed these past weeks makes it so much easier to be aware, and to feel blessed. I think it is a pity in this time if we think we have to go to our screens and tune in to the actions of a priest in an empty church building in order to commune with our God.

All reports suggest, and it is also my own experience, that this time of ‘lockdown’ has brought out the best in people. Neighbours are interacting with each other, from a social distance of course, like never before. The over seventies, like myself, have numerous people offering help and support. That too is the presence of the Divine.

In this strange and difficult time, I believe that Church authorities are missing a great opportunity to open us all up to the reality of God’s presence in the world, and in ourselves. Let the churches remain closed, and without the streaming of solo Masses, until such time as it is possible for the community to gather together again, and celebrate the Mass in the way that brings out its full meaning and significance. If in the meantime we can attune ourselves a bit more to the presence of God in ourselves, in others and in the whole of creation, then when we come back to the church building we will not come there to meet God. We will instead bring the Divine Presence with us into the gathering, and the Mass we celebrate will not just be the actions of the priest, but will be all of us sharing our own experience of the risen Christ among us. Pope Francis, referencing the statement of Jesus in the Gospel, ‘I stand at the door and knock’, suggests that Jesus is inside the Church wanting to open the door and get out. Maybe this is the time for us to find him where he is most present and alive, and when appropriate, bring him back to the church building with us.

 

5 Responses

  1. Mary Vallely

    I have serious reservations about the reopening of our churches mainly from a health and safety point of view. However, Tony’s words have given me much food for reflection. As someone who tunes into the web every day for mass but who also prays with greater fervour and joy under that blue canopy of sky I believe we must take advantage of this time to rethink and reform our ways of worshipping and gathering together.

    There is however huge pressure on priests from the many, generally older, parishioners who miss their daily mass and devotions or that dropping into a church to say a prayer and light a candle. Old patterns of thinking and old habits are hard to break particularly in these times of fear and uncertainty. We have to acknowledge the pressure on our priests many of whom may well agree with Tony but feel they have to bow to the pressure of their parishioners. Change is not easy though this is the perfect time to enact many small reforms and open up our hearts and minds to new insights and new ways of being church.

    I entirely agree with this quote from Tony’s article and say a big ‘Amen’ to it!

    “If in the meantime we can attune ourselves a bit more to the presence of God in ourselves, in others and in the whole of creation, then when we come back to the church building we will not come there to meet God. We will instead bring the Divine Presence with us into the gathering, and the Mass we celebrate will not just be the actions of the priest, but will be all of us sharing our own experience of the risen Christ among us.”

  2. Paddy Ferry

    Tony, that is a beautiful article. Thank you.

    Your paragraph below sums up so well the true meaning of God, I think.
    Until I read your essay, “The Language of Doctrine”, my understanding of the reality of God was still what I had learned as a child. With your help, and that of Fr. Diarmuid O’Murchu, I think I now have a more mature and realistic understanding of the essence of the Divinity. I will always be grateful to you, Tony, for that prompting towards a greater enlightenment.

    “In my later years I have come more strongly to believe that God, or the Divine Presence as I prefer to express it, is not in some heavenly dwelling far away from us, or indeed locked in a tabernacle, but is instead at the heart and centre of the whole of creation, of the universe. I also believe that creation was not a historical event, but is instead a continuing reality, guided by the Divine Spirit. In other words, God is not distant from us, but is within us and around us in every aspect of creation, guiding the whole evolutionary process to what Teilhard de Chardin called the Omega Point, which he interpreted as the ultimate triumph of Love. Central to our Christian understanding is that God is Love.”

    However, Mary also has a point. I know many people get a lot from streamed Masses. I believe our local PP at home, Fr. Pat, who is an excellent priest, has 500 followers of his daily Mass which is streamed on Facebook. And they are not just in our parish in Donegal but over here in Scotland where my cousins and many of my friends tune in as do our exiles in America and Australia. Might this even be the new norm as some people have told me they get as much spiritual uplift from this as they would being physically present at Mass.

    I hope the jam turns out well, Tony. Its a pity Seamus hasn’t got a wee plot like you have.

  3. Pascal O'Dea

    Tony,
    fair play to you and your points are sound, but an essential point for a lot of people attending web cam masses like myself is participation with others in spirit,I agree with your basic premise of God in us all , but we are social sharing beings and while contemplation is good for the soul the webcam mass I attend has lay people singing in appropriate family unit of two, a reader, and a celebrant who measures minus on the clerical “richter scale”, so I would contend there is a place for both approaches , but we have been isolated enough I feel to leave the worthy long march to less stressful times,
    Pascal

  4. Nessan Vaughan

    I am grateful to Tony for his insights on where God can be found. However, one shouldn’t have to choose between streamed Masses and finding God in everyday life. There are many ways to encounter God and surely God reaches us in nature, in our gardens (although I don’t have one!) and in streamed Masses. We need to be sensitive to each person’s journey in their encounter with the divine.

  5. Thomas Keane

    I would disagree with Fr. Tony Flannery and his views of online masses.

    Right around Ireland right now, even before the arrival of Covid-19 to Ireland there were many people who cannot attend mass for what are often health reasons.

    Many of these people I am sure are people who while they had their health would never have missed Sunday (or the Vigil Mass) and would still attend if they were able to.

    I would ask Fr. Tony is there a difference between the screening of mass every second Sunday on RTE for the sick and the house bound or even to EWTN each day, and the streaming of mass on the net. The main difference in my view is one is on the television, the other is shown on a laptop/tablet/phone.

    I know of a number of people who tune into a mass each day of the week in recent times from their homes, something that they were not able to do in the past.

    Even when we get back to normal there may be a number of people who would like to continue to see/hear daily mass celebrated but would not be able to attend one in person as the daily mass would be celebrated in their parish and even in neighbouring parishes when they are at work.

    For such people, isn’t it great that they can sit down at home with the television or radio or any other distractions turned off for half an hour or 45 minutes and see/hear a priest celebrate mass.

    If Jesus was to walk on earth today and someone was to ask him at one of the places that he would be preaching about the Gospel message if he was against the idea of the streaming of mass on the net, i don’t think he would. In fact I think he would be all in favour of it and any other way where what he spoke about 2000 years ago could be celebrated.

    Right now in Ireland and elsewhere there is far too many people who knock the Catholic Church. Any way which helps those that have a belief in God and which keeps us in touch with him should be welcomed and not knocked.


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