My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
It was truly good to see people physically present at our Masses in church on Trinity Sunday weekend, June 6-7. After celebrating Masses by livestream video without a congregation in church for over two months, it was refreshing to see people in the pews. From my perspective looking into a camera lens, even though I knew there were people watching the livestream video, it was just not the same as being in the same place together. The church is a community, an assembly, and as such, the community must assemble and be together, not just relate remotely.
I have been asked if we will discontinue the video streaming of our Masses now that people can come to church, even if we are not yet able to fill our churches to capacity. While I do want people to return to physically attending Mass in person, I do not want to get away from livestreaming. That might seem contradictory to what I just said about the importance of being together in person, so let me explain why.
First of all, my dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass remains in place indefinitely and we are asking people who are sick or show symptoms of sickness to stay home. I want them to be able to watch on livestream.
Moreover, I think we can learn by analogy from the experience of the Chicago Blackhawks regarding the question of televising home games. For many years, the former president of the Blackhawks, the late Bill Wirtz, declined to televise home games for fear that people would not come to watch the hockey games in person. Despite that policy, attendance was in the 14,000 range in most of the decade of the 2000’s in the United Center, which seats 22,000 people for hockey. When Bill Wirtz died in 2007 and his son Rocky took over the team, Rocky started televising all home games. Instead of hurting attendance, it sky-rocketed, and they have had a string of 531 consecutive home sell-outs until the season was interrupted this year by the coronavirus shutdown. It turns out that televising home games was great way to market the team especially as they were winning three Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Rather than inducing people to stay home, it was a great marketing tool that attracted people to come and see the game in person.
Similarly, in addition to being a service for the sick and homebound, I hope our livestreamed Masses will help spark interest in people who have been away to come for the in-person experience. I have heard from people who have converted to the Catholic faith as well as from fallen away Catholics that the biggest obstacle for them was taking the first step, often due to fear of the unknown. They did not know what it would be like walking through the doors into the church, what they would see, how they would be welcomed, and what they would experience. If they could test the waters, so to speak, and see for themselves what goes on behind the doors of the church, they might feel encouraged to give it a try and come to church in person.
My hope is that people will be enticed but not satisfied by a virtual experience of church via video. After all, when watching Mass on your screen, you can pray, but there is no fellowship, no community, and no holy Communion for you to receive with the Real Presence of Jesus Christ.
In order to do this in our Cathedral, we will have to purchase some video equipment and cameras to be mounted permanently, rather than the current arrangement of cameras and wires on the floor of the church. To do this properly, it will not be cheap. I have been advised that the cost of permanent equipment that would be needed to provide the desired audio and visual quality would be in the range of $25,000 to $30,000.
Given the economic impact of the coronavirus shutdown, we do not have any extra funds at hand to pay for such an expense at this time when it is most needed. Fortunately, however, the federal government sent economic stimulus checks to taxpayers to help stimulate the economy. I recently received my “Economic Impact Payment” of $1,200 from the United States Treasury.
In order to put this economic stimulus check to meaningful use, I have decided to donate the full amount — $1,200 — to help purchase video equipment for our Cathedral. Since that will cover only a fraction of the total cost, and, if you are as blessed as I am to have the financial means, I invite you to match my donation or give what you are able. Any funds received in excess of what is initially needed to purchase the video equipment for the Cathedral will be put into a fund to pay for future costs for upkeep of the equipment and/or to share with other parishes seeking financial assistance to purchase video equipment for their churches.
Please send your donation to my attention:
Bishop Thomas John Paprocki
Diocese of Springfield in Illinois
1615 West Washington St.
Springfield, IL 62702-4757
You can also donate securely online at dio.org/give.
As we seek to find new ways to spread the Gospel and respond to the needs of the faithful in these changing times, I thank you for your generosity, prayers, and commitment to our faith.
May God give us this grace. Amen.