Parishes adapt to suspension of Mass: Live streaming now common

Parishes have had to adapt to a temporary reality that Mass is temporarily suspended, and offices transitioned to reduced staffing.

The initial shock of this new reality may have worn off, but the solution to this problem has been varied and encouraging. What may have been a novelty in the past, such as live streaming daily and Sunday Mass, or having a Sacrament of Reconciliation from a car in a church parking lot, are becoming commonplace.

As common as these efforts to stay connected to the faithful have become, more is still taking place, all in response to a communication from Bishop Frank J. Dewane to the priests of the Diocese. In one letter, Bishop Dewane asked the priests to draw upon the Church’s rich tradition of prayer and devotion to ensure that the spiritual life of parishioners is nourished and remains vibrant through means which are prudently adapted to the current circumstances.

Father Hugh McGuigan, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, is Pastor of Our Lady of Light Parish in Fort Myers, was one of the first to live stream Mass and to hear confessions from the car.

“With people cut off from reception of the Sacraments and the Mass we had to make adjustments,” Father McGuigan said. “While these are not the answers to all of the problems, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton has confession times on Saturday mornings and afternoons. Each session is scheduled for one hour but in the first two weekends (March 21 and March 28) the time has been extended by as much as 30 minutes.

Father Shawn Roser, Parochial Vicar at St. Joseph Parish, said he was encouraged to have so many people interested in the sacrament.

The drive-thru confession is typically a set time when a priest, or priests are available under the church portico, seated or standing a safe distance away from the vehicle, but close enough to hear the penitent. (See list of Parishes and times below.)

To ensure the Sacrament is properly administered, there is a limit of one penitent in the vehicle. When there are more people in a vehicle, arrangements are made to ensure confession is heard not only at a safe distance for the health of the priest and penitent, but also for the purposes of ensuring absolute privacy. Priests are also available for the Sacrament by appointment through the Parish Office.

The Diocese, as well as Parishes, have used their websites for not only broadcasting a live Mass, but for the prayer intentions for the day, as if the church was open. In addition, numerous intentions have been added for all impacted by the pandemic. Live Masses in the Diocese are being offered, in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese and Latin.

Some priests have also been sharing daily and weekly reflections on the readings and/or current pandemic crisis; reciting of prayers such as the rosary, Our Father, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Angelus, and more; as well as having live Adoration, Stations of the Cross and Holy Hours.

Each effort keeps a connection open. Comments reacting to the efforts have been very positive, with some offering suggestions for more content.

Bishop Dewane acknowledged in his March 18 letter to parishioners announcing the suspension of the Mass, the sacrifice for the Catholic Faithful, “who have a great love for the Holy Eucharist and depend on the Most Blessed Sacrament for their spiritual lives. Do recall that Faithful Catholics, throughout the history of the Church, have kept the faith alive through trying times. By prayer and devotion, as well as spiritual solidarity with each other, the life of faith continued to be a source of strength and perseverance during persecutions and other times of public crisis.”

On the Diocesan and Parish websites, a number of additional resources, including links to prayers, devotions and the daily readings have been made available.

Parishes are also continuing to produce their weekly bulletin, updating schedules of cancelled or postponed events and sharing the latest updates on actions people can take to help in the community. In many cases, copies are being mailed to those who do not have access to the internet. This is one reason the Diocese offers the Televised Sunday Mass, airing at 9:30 a.m. on the CW in the northern portions of the Diocese and 10:30 a.m. on FOX-4 in the southern area.

During this time, priests and Parish staff are limiting their exposure to others by first curtailing access to offices and encouraging most, if not all, business to be conducted by phone. Many staff are also working from home to ensure necessary social distancing.

Last rites will be administered only in the case of death. Baptisms are not being denied but temporarily only taking place in cases of emergency. Weddings are encouraged to be postponed. In the event postponement is not a viable option, limitations are required in regard to the number of people present. In addition, funerals are being limited in size to immediate family members only.

Bishop Dewane is aware of the difficulty some of these restrictions are causing but said they are necessary during this extraordinary and historic time.

“In this time of Lent, with challenges, uncertainty, and fear in our lives, let us turn toward prayer,” Bishop Dewane said. “Through prayer and trust be confident in the belief that God does not abandon us in times of peril, in fact, the Lord will draw us close and protect us.

Please pray for everyone impacted by this pandemic – the sick, their caregivers, courageous medical personnel, and those reaching out in charity to help our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Seeking the intercessions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in particular, her spouse, St. Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church, pray for protection and guidance through these troubling times, the Bishop continued,

“Through the Word of the Lord, that is Sacred Scripture, it is possible to overcome fear and courageously face the challenging days ahead,” the Bishop said.

Men’s Conference Fight the Good Fight of the Faith!

How can one be a good Catholic father, husband, brother, son or man in a modern world?

The answer to this and other questions was found Feb. 8 during the 2020 Diocese of Venice Men’s Conference at Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers. The Conference theme was: “Fight the Good Fight of the Faith!” (1 Timothy 6:12).

Hundreds of men gathered to hear from nationally known speakers Mark Hart, Chris Padgett and Father Donald Calloway, Marian Father of the Immaculate Conception.  The talks offered spiritual guidance and inspiration as well practical advice for the Catholic men.

Jim Burke of Resurrection Parish in Fort Myers enjoyed the day, saying the speakers touched on key points when talking about how to stay connected to the faith through the reading if Scripture, prayer and becoming more active in Parish life.

“As a father and almost a grandfather, I worry about my family more than ever, whether or not they are practicing the Catholic Faith,” Burke explained. “I heard things that resonated with me. It boils down to me knowing and understanding the Church better so I can share that knowledge.”

At the beginning of the day Joshua Mazrin, Diocese Director of Evangelization, told the men to have fun and enjoy a nice Saturday when they can be removed from all of their worldly obligations, but added the day was to be about taking “the time to encounter the Lord, to learn more about your Faith, and to grow in fellowship with one another.”

Charlie Vincenzo of St. Therese Parish in North Fort Myers found hope by being around other like-minded men who want the best for their own lives, the lives of their family and the life of Holy Mother Church. “Society seems to want to do away with all religion, when what it really needs are warriors to stand up and fight these battles for our Faith.”

Father Calloway, a convert who has a special affinity for the Holy Family, stressed that when we struggle to understand and overcome difficulties in our life, it is crucial to turn to the Lord for comfort and guidance. In our efforts to find the Lord, turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, through intercessions and following their example.

“We need the Lord in our lives now more than ever,” Father Calloway said. “One way the Church is stressing to do that is through Mary and one of the greatest saints, St. Joseph, step-father of Jesus. His is an example to us, someone we need in our life, for our family and household… Joseph was a spiritual warrior; the terror of demons, pillar of families, warrior of domestic life; guardian of virgins; patron of the Church; and your spiritual father.”

Padgett, a father of nine who is a native of the Diocese of Venice where he entered the Church in 1999, shared his own challenges and experiences in learning about the Catholic Church. Bringing a comedic aspect to his talk, Padgett stressed how being a man of God isn’t about athletics or power tools, it is that we are all called to greatness and this is best demonstrated in our willingness to sacrifice and serve.

Hart, executive vice president of Life Teen International, stressed that having a strong faith life begins with the study of Scriptures. “It is how we come to know God… Even if you just read the parts in the Mass (of Scripture read out as the first, second, responsorial psalm and Gospel), you have 167 hours of reading. That is a good place to start.”

Throughout the day the men enjoyed spiritual fellowship, a burger fest, food trucks and outdoor games. The day also included the opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The closing Mass was celebrated by Father Eric Scanlan, Administrator of Incarnation Parish in Sarasota, filling in for Bishop Frank J. Dewane who was unable to attend because he was participating in a “Ad Limina” visit to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican.