The “new normal” of live-streaming Mass may have problematic long-term ramifications. The Mass is the “source and summit” of the Christian life. Governments have imposed restrictions on Church attendance in some regions during the global pandemic. Digitally telecasting Mass may be quasi-liturgical innovation, but it can be a dangerous practice threatening our belief system’s fabric.
Let’s get this straight; I am not against live-streaming masses as a viable alternative. I am fascinated by developments in technology. But I don’t want to join digital liturgies without re-examining the existing fundamentals.
Live-streamed Sunday Mass is not an obligation.
The bishops have waived off Sunday obligation for the faithful until further notice. That does not mean there is an obligation to attend virtual Sunday mass. It is a cautious recommendation because of personal holiness. Check with your diocese or parish if the privilege of ‘not to attend Sunday Mass’ is still in effect. The Church is asking us to keep Sunday as a day of prayer. You can stay connected with the Catholic community by watching and praying online Mass. You may be dispensed of the obligation, but Sunday remains as a day of rest to honor God.
Virtual Presence does not replace the Real Presence of Jesus.
Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Online Mass can erode the desire for Real Presence. You should guard yourself not to replace Real Presence with the virtual reality of electronic images. It can undermine your faith.
Online Mass is not a substitute for community participation.
Catholic Mass is a community celebration, not just a pious personal devotion. You are encouraged to attend online Mass as a family or with some members of the family. Mass always evokes a sense of community. Although there is a longing for community worship, you must not violate government decree to contain the spread of the virus. It may take time for government authorities to permit church attendance. Remember, where two are three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).
Act of Spiritual Communion is Not a Substitute for Communion
The Church always advocated the practice of making a spiritual communion outside Mass. St. Alphonsus Liguori’s prayer anticipates a future reception of Communion. The prayer is not a proposed substitute for Communion. Catholics are encouraged to pray the Act of Spiritual Communion. But receiving Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is irreplaceable and fundamental for our faith expression.
Attending Mass online can become a habit.
Given the pandemic, it appears reasonable to attend online Mass. But the danger is in forming a habit to watch live-streamed or pre-recorded masses. Some Catholics avoid streamed Mass, as it is not real. Yes, homebound Catholics feel connected to their local parish when they watch online Mass. Already there is a general feeling that church attendance will decline after the pandemic. We cannot predict the future of faith expressions. But research tells us that bad habits are hard to break.
Invitation to respect Online Mass Etiquette
Online Mass etiquette can impact the way you pray. It is a matter of preparation for the worship service. You are called on to dress up for an online Mass like you would appear with your “Sunday best” in the physical location of your parish church. You need to prepare beforehand, not just switch on the TV and start watching the Mass. It’s about participation – reverently join in the responses and liturgical gestures – prepare an altar. Another easy suggestion is to sing along. The usual mass etiquette applies even during the virtual service, like avoiding cell phones, no chewing gum (eating food), or running to the kitchen -avoid distraction.
The debate about Online Engagement during live-stream Mass
You must have noticed, people type in their prayer requests or hit the “like” button on social media. These new expressions of faith will soon be under the scanner. Can it be done?
It is beneficial for social media algorithms to determine the engagement level of the audience. People type in responses during the “Sign of Peace” to greet one another while watching the Mass. Moreover, some parishes have social media teams to reply to people’s messages during the live-streamed service.
It is new territory. The priest is navigating these uncharted waters to keep engagement level and lead the congregation to genuine participation. Social media offers tools of engagement during live streaming. Can these be treated as worship distractions or expressions of faith? Can you start engaging with your fellow parishioners during a live-stream mass? Will bishops issue guidelines on social media engagement during live-stream Mass?
No social media engagement at all during a live–stream mass may not be the solution. Where can we draw the line – with prudence and sensitivity focusing on active participation in a worship service? We need to adhere to these protocols until we meet in a proper church setting for Mass.
Your suggestions to move ahead
If you have best practices for online Mass – or even dangers of live-stream Mass, feel free to share them in the comments section. The important thing is to pray and persevere in your relationship with God to move ahead with hope.
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About the Author
Feroz Fernandes, a Catholic Missionary, identifies himself as an Uncommon Priest. Father Feroz loves adventure in the apostolate. Check out his debut book The Uncommon Priest: Incredible Stories You Never Read on amazon. And also, the YouTube Channel: Feroz Fernandes promotes a better understanding of scripture.