Sheila Grove and Anne-Marie Welsh

Erie — Early in the morning, Father Bill Barron, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Reynoldsville and Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Sykesville, sets up his phone near the altar to begin livestreaming Mass on Facebook and the parish website. Over the five weeks since public Masses have been cancelled, his online parish community has grown in size and comfort. 

Fr. Bill Barron livesteams Mass from
St. Mary Church in Reynoldsville.
Facebook photo

 “It took some getting used to,” he admits.At first I was concerned about how it looked and sounded and how to promote it.” As he and his assembly acclimated to the experience, however, he has been able to focus on the prayerful experience of the liturgy. Father Barron says he even has come to appreciate the “likes” and comments as prayer, and as a helpful way of maintaining a sense of parish and community. He says the experience already has prompted ideas about exploring livestreaming experiences after restrictions are lifted.  

Msgr, Richard Siefer, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in DuBois, also has noticed livestreaming the Mass becoming a more prayerful experience.  

“It is strange to be in the church alone and not hear responses,” he says. But as time goes on, he has found it to be “a wonderful means to connect with folks.  

How has it been for those “folks” on the receiving end of the endeavor?  

Watching Mass from her home has been important for Jennifer Wortman, director of faith formation for the Warren County Catholic Community and parishioner at St. Joseph parish.

“More people watch Mass than are normally able to attend,” she says. “I think people have taken advantage of being able to experience the diocesan and world church while participating in Mass from many different places.” Wortman notes the parish also has been able to stream the weekly Catholic school Mass with Father Rick Tomasone, pastor.   

Those behind the camera lens have a unique perspective as well. While some priests prop their own phones on the altar to capture the experience, many have a person monitoring the image on a phone as it goes to Facebook. And still others have complex camera and sound technology at their parishes.  

Patrick Shickler, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Harborcreek. reflects on the challenge of getting the technology right. 

“We experimented with sound and lighting. Avoiding echoes in an empty church is challenging,” he says. “I had to learn to trust the technology.”  

Schickler notes that despite being physically present for the Mass, being behind the camera is different. 

“I became more aware that I was the only one there,” he says.” There is no choir, no one moving or responding around me. It feels very different to be looking

Rev. Msgr. Gerald T. Ritchie celebrates Mass livestreamed from
Our Lady of Mercy
Church in Harborcreek.
Facebook photo

through the camera without the usual sights and sounds of being at Mass with other people. It is an honor to be able to do this”.

 Overall, Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico is pleased to see so many parishes stretching themselves in new ways to meet the needs of their people. 
 “I keep thinking about what it must have been like during the pandemic of 1918, when they didn’t have modern technology,” Bishop Persico says. “There was no access once the churches closed. Technology at least gives people a sense of participation.” 

 The bishop has led by example, livestreaming devotions, Holy Week events and Sunday Masses. He says he is open to the possibility of having technology for livestreaming installed permanently at St. Peter Cathedral.   

We’re learning a great deal,” he says. “Among other things, this situation has reminded us of one of the gems of the church that had been somewhat forgotten. Because of the pandemic, we have been reminded about the possibility of making a spiritual Communion.” 
 During Holy Week, Bishop Persico encouraged priests in the diocese to remember their unique role in the sacramental life of the church, despite not celebrating Mass in public. 
“Even if the people can’t be with us at the altar, we can pray with them and for them, and the grace of the Eucharist reaches their souls,” he said.  

 It gives me satisfaction to know that even though people can’t be at Mass physically, they’re still benefiting from the prayers we are saying,” the bishop says.   

Celebrants, online congregation members and videographers have learned a lot about accommodating the unprecedented challenges created by the pandemic. As with all things, God provides the means to meet the challenges and inspires new ways to share the Gospel.