Sunday, 19 April 2020 19:26

Forced to stay home, families becoming closer, more prayerful and faithful

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Forty parishes in diocese streaming Mass to the faithful; tens of thousands tuning in each week

It’s a new routine for the Manns family in Bethalto. Every day at 9 a.m., the five children (ages 9, 8, 6 and 3 years, and 6 months) join their parents for breakfast, and then they turn on their television to participate in Mass through a Facebook Live stream from their home parish, St. Mary in Alton.

“We have a Mother Mary statue underneath the television, and while we don’t get dressed up for online Mass, we are trying to bring the holiness you feel at the Mass to our home,” Laura Manns said. “My older children understand what’s going on, but the younger ones, not yet. They still want to pull out the Legos during Mass.”

The Manns family is joining millions around the world and tens of thousands in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois with this new normal, streaming Mass to their living room as the coronavirus epidemic has meant Mass inside our churches is closed to the public. While Manns is missing attending Mass at her home parish and receiving the Eucharist, she has seen blessings from “attending” Mass online.

“I enjoy the fact that my boys are asking me more questions,” Manns said. “They are asking questions about the readings. I feel like they are entering into the Mass even more now.”

The Halbrook family in Granite City has also seen many fruits from staying home together. Parishioners of Holy Family Parish, Michael and his wife, Suzanne, have four children, ages 14, 12, 10 and 7. Michael travels for his job about half the year, so being home with his family around the clock has been refreshing.

“We’ve talked about, ‘Are we even going to go back to a lot of the same activities we’ve done before?’” Michael Halbrook said. “We want to set up more boundaries, sign up for less things, so we can be with each other more.”

The Halbrooks have kept the expectation in their family that the Mass is the center of their week, so every Sunday, they stream Mass online. That has been with Father Steven Arisman, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Parish in Mt. Zion. That’s because the family knows Father Arisman and Halbrook says keeping things familiar with his children has been helpful.

Besides Mass, the family has been going to their basement, or “prayer room,” more often than normal. That includes the family praying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer and the rosary. It also includes the children playing Mass.

“They always play Mass, but it has only intensified because they can’t go right now,” Halbrook said. “We are deliberately going down there more to pray.”

Catholic Times counted about 40 parishes from across the diocese that are streaming their Sunday Mass online, most of which are also streaming their daily Masses. The number of viewers has been most surprising. Considering most daily Masses typically have about 10 to 30 people attend in person at most parishes, online views for several parishes streaming daily Mass online have been in the hundreds. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception’s daily Mass has crossed more than 1,000 viewers on social media several times. On Sundays, the totals are much higher for parishes across the diocese.

Father Chris Comerford, pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, has been streaming his Masses online. He has seen viewership around 500 for daily Mass and more than 1,500 for Sunday Mass. “People are hungry for the Eucharist and for something normal in their lives,” Father Comerford said. “They are feeling connected through watching with others and being able to comment. They love to offer peace through comments. Some are watching all three times I offer prayer each day.”

Father Comerford also believes this time will help reinvigorate people’s faith lives.

“I don’t believe people will take going to Mass for granted,” he said. “I do believe they will realize they need to make time for prayer even when their lives get busy. Our challenge will be to help them not to go back to pushing God and church to the bottom of the list when things get busy.”

In Decatur, Father Joe Molloy, pastor of Holy Family Parish, is also seeing big numbers of people viewing his Masses and prayers online. Add up all his online Masses so far and the viewership is in the tens of thousands. His live online rosaries consistently have more than 300 viewers praying along.

“Live-streaming and Facebook are new to me,” Father Molloy said. “I had never been on Facebook until March 20 — never. People are really tuning in, which is great. They are hungering for something spiritual in their lives, and for some connection to their parish and pastor. I have had many, many wonderful and supportive comments on how much they are enjoying the streamed services.”

Father Molloy says these online Masses prove people long for the Eucharist and each other. It’s also bringing about stronger families and people returning to the faith.

 “They have told me repeatedly that the Mass and rosary keep them rooted in their faith and in the parish,” he said. “Many have said they watch or pray as a family. I have had people say the live-streaming has brought them back to the church.”