For Catholics, Sunday Mass attendance is an obligation. But what about those for whom it is physically impossible, because of illness or infirmity? I visit parishioners in this situation each week. It is a great joy and privilege to be able to take them the Blessed Sacrament. But even so, when people have not been to church for a long time it can be hard for them to retain a sense of belonging.
In the last few years, many of my home communicants have found a great deal of comfort, encouragement and sustenance in quite a recent phenomenon: the growth of live Masses available on the internet. Often parishioners will ask me to suggest one to them as they feel overwhelmed by the choice available. Here are some of the providers which I would recommend.
Church Services TV, established in 2005, streams Masses and other liturgies, acting as an umbrella site for hundreds of parishes across the UK, Ireland and the USA. This allows the site to provide what is perhaps the greatest variety and diversity available on the internet. It is possible to log on at any time and view links to live Masses which are about to be celebrated.
Each parish is responsible for its own streaming and so the production quality can vary as can liturgical style. In some cases parishes will also stream funerals, weddings and other special occasions: a valuable service for the housebound and for relatives and friends who may not be able to travel.
The Passionists of the St Paul of the Cross Province, USA, began their television ministry in New York in 1970. The focus has always been on Sunday Mass. They now call themselves a “TV parish” and there is even a downloadable application form to be enrolled as an online parishioner. You can also submit Mass intentions, and a Sunday prayer guide is available to help viewers to follow the liturgy. In particular, the Passionists try to reach servicemen (and women) away from home. Those who “attend” the Mass can also write comments, which helps foster a sense of community.
Today, hundreds of thousands now join in the celebration of Sunday Mass nationwide on the ABC network in the USA and on the internet worldwide.
The Lourdes Grotto webcam is available 24 hours per day. Mass is said many times each day in a variety of languages and a list of Mass times is available on the website (be aware of the time difference). This provides a wonderful opportunity for those unable to travel to make a spiritual pilgrimage.
The EWTN Mass is thought to be the most widely viewed Mass in the world. Daily Mass is celebrated daily in the EWTN chapel by the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word and there is always a homily and music. A helpful printable sheet with the readings of the day is also available from the website.
Walsingham Catholic TV is a component of the exciting plans which are seeking to transform our national shrine. There is live streaming of the Slipper Chapel and The Chapel of Reconciliation, which also includes all of the main liturgies. The daily highlight is the 12 noon Pilgrimage Mass, which is usually sung with a homily. A greater variety is provided because of the number of visiting priests who preach each day, although Mgr John Armitage, the Rector, is the mainstay.
Prayer intentions can be sent to the shrine via email (email@example.com) and these are placed before the altar during the Mass.
This is a wonderful resource for those who seek a daily Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Livemass.net is an apostolate of The Priestly Fraternity of St Peter, and Masses are streamed each day from various locations around the world, including Warrington in the UK. The website also provides an online Missal, which includes an English translation.
This website is useful for the housebound, and for those who love the traditional Mass but who are not able to find one nearby.
This is not an exhaustive list but it should give an impression of just how much is now available. Streaming Masses is not without its controversy: I am aware of a particular parish at the moment where there is a campaign by parishioners to stop the broadcasting of Masses, especially when children are present. They are also concerned about their own privacy and feel that the streaming somehow detracts from the dignity of the celebration. Hopefully this is an isolated situation: the advent of live-streaming Masses has proved valuable for many of my parishioners, and it has a place in evangelisation too. The internet can help to make the Mass available to more people than ever before.