I was watching a documentary recently about the addresses that the Queen has made to the nation during the many years of her reign. We are very used to these speeches, especially at Christmas when it has become a tradition for families to sit and watch the Queen on the television after finishing their Christmas dinner. In 1957 her Christmas message from Sandringham was televised for the very first time rather than only being broadcast on the radio. As the documentary pointed out, in a very real sense she was inviting the nation into her home, broadcasting from her sitting room into everyone else’s sitting rooms throughout the country and, indeed, around the world. It was described as an innovation and ground-breaking. I couldn’t help thinking that the same could be said for the daily Masses that I have been live-streaming from my dining room to the homes of families throughout the parish and even further afield.
I should perhaps first explain that, when the coronavirus pandemic resulted in public Masses having stop and our churches closed, the initial thought of many priests in this technological age was to live-stream the celebration of Mass from their empty churches to the internet via their smart phones, iPads, or laptops. I wasn’t able to do that because my broadband signal wouldn’t reach into church – which isn’t physically connected to the house. The only option (as opposed to doing nothing) was to live-stream Mass from my house. And just in case anyone is wondering, Canon Law states that:
The eucharistic celebration is to be carried out in a sacred place, unless in a particular case necessity requires otherwise; in which case the celebration must be in a fitting place.
In the extra-ordinary situation created by the pandemic, every day presented just such “a particular case of necessity”.
Whilst creating “a fitting place” in my dining room, it seemed to me to be important that the Mass be celebrated in a more informal way than it normally is in the setting of a church. If sitting at a table with his disciples was acceptable to Our Lord for the celebration of the Last Supper, then surely sitting at my dining table would also be acceptable to him. And I have just worn a stole rather than getting fully vested as in church. All of this therefore created the same sort of informal setting in which the people would be in their own homes – as if we were all sitting at table together.
Conscious of the fact that most people probably aren’t used to celebrating Mass in this more informal way, I wanted to be sure that they were comfortable with it and indeed people have been very complimentary and welcoming of our daily celebrations. Day by day the numbers “attending” began to grow – and this was particularly true of the Holy Week services and Easter Sunday Mass that came along within days of our home Masses beginning.
But just picking up on the point the documentary made that in a very real sense the Queen invites the nation into her home by broadcasting her speeches from her sitting room into everyone else’s sitting rooms, that is what I feel I am doing by being able to live-stream the celebration of Mass from my home into the homes of parishioners and others further afield. In that respect they are able to see me in my home but also, even better than the Queen’s situation, I can also see them in their homes because the conference call facility that we are using provides images across the top of my laptop screen of those “gathered” for the celebration.
All of this is fine given the situation we are in, but it will be better yet to be able to return to a full-scale parish celebration in church – with singing and, most importantly, everyone being able to receive holy communion once again – just as soon as it is safe to do so.