As many people adjust to working and learning from home, religious services across the city also have to adapt to the social distancing that can help flatten the curve of the coronavirus.
Until further notice, Cardinal Sean O’Malley has temporarily suspended all daily and Sunday Masses and religious services in the Archdiocese of Boston. Additionally, he has also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass.
But that didn’t stop more than 1,500 people from watching a taped Mass from St. Cecilia Parish in the Back Bay this past Sunday, a first for the church, said Pastoral Director of Operations Mary Kaye.
She said the closest the church has come to something like this is recording some of Father John Unni’s homilies and putting them on the parish’s Facebook page. They, too, have been well-received, she said.
St. Cecilia holds more than 700 people, and even before the current restrictions on gatherings, the church staff knew that holding Mass was not a good idea as more and more information came out about the importance of social distancing.
The virtual Mass that was held this past Sunday was “bare bones,” Kaye said, with a few musicians and lectors joining Fr. Unni while maintaining social distance. She said that even though they only put out one email saying this was going to happen, more than 15,00 tuned in during the stream, and since then, more than 2,500 people have viewed the Mass.
“We were floored by the number of people who watched this,” she said. “To us, after Catholics have already received dispensation, you do not need to go to Mass. We were amazed that people wanted to connect.”
Fr. Unni told the Sun it was “different not having anybody in the room when we were used to having [500 to 700].” He said he was aware of the camera in the church with him and said it was a “different experience, but I think it went fine, and we got positive feedback on it.”
He also said he hopes for this coming week’s Mass to not have glitches, and that everyone who wants to connect will be able to do so.
Fr. Unni said that having Mass even when it’s not required is “important for a time like this when there’s so much uncertainty,” as it provides a sense of familiarity in very unfamiliar circumstances, as well as helps people stick to their routines when everything else is turned upside down.
St. Cecilia Parish is also trying to find other ways that people can connect, she said, as the parish has 3,000 households and adds between 300 and 325 new households a year. Kaye said a large number of parishioners are young adults.
“We are blessed to have a lot of young people who are internet savvy and want something like a live-streamed Mass,” Kaye said.
Additionally, St. Cecilia has plans to do its “Pastries with a Pastor” program—which takes place every other month—virtually. Typically, people gather with Fr. Unni in person over coffee and donuts to have a conversation about just abut anything. But now, Kaye said about a dozen people at a time will be able grab a cup of coffee —each from the comfort of their own homes—and chat with Fr. Unni via Zoom or another videoconferencing program in an attempt to retain some sort of normalcy with the programs offered by the parish.
Fr. Unni said he hopes the virtual Masses and other online efforts from the church can instill that sense of familiarity in his parishioners.
“I do think we need to be more conscious and aware that it is not business as usual,” Fr. Unni said. “People are losing their jobs. That affects people’s spirits.”