A new “dial-a-Mass” service enabling Catholics with no internet connection to listen to Sunday Masses is proving a success, an English bishop has said.
Bishop Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough said that 100 people used the Mass-by-Phone service when it launched on May 3.
Public Masses were suspended in England from March 20 and churches ordered to close days later. The government has not indicated when churches will be allowed to reopen.
The Diocese of Middlesbrough, in northern England, decided to introduce the phone line – believed to be the first of its kind in England – when it became clear that some Catholics were unable to follow livestream Masses because they didn’t have smartphones or Wi-Fi.
Bishop Drainey told CNA: “We’re trying to reach out to as many people as possible. But it became obvious to us that there are some people who aren’t on the internet and they are being completely missed and also wanting to somehow take part in the Mass.”
“As a result of that, talking to our communications people, we came up with this idea of having a ‘dial-a-Mass’ system.”
When Catholics call the service, they hear a brief message welcoming them to St Mary’s Cathedral in Middlesbrough. A recording of the Sunday Mass then begins.
The Knights of St Columba Council 29 is funding the service, which the diocese believes is the first in England that doesn’t require special access codes.
Bishop Drainey said the line was part of the Church’s creative response to restrictions imposed by the government to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“One of the things that this crisis situation has brought out is people’s imagination: how to initiate new ways of praying, new ways of getting in touch with the larger Church, participating virtually in liturgical celebrations,” he said.
He added that the service was likely to continue after the crisis passed. He recalled that an 86-year-old woman had phoned him just before the lockdown to talk about livestreamed Masses:
“I said we’re about to do it. ‘That’s fine, great,’ she said. ‘But when all this is finished, you need to continue livestreaming. People like me who can no longer get out, we long to be able to somehow be in contact with the Mass. So promise me there you’ll really encourage livestreaming after this has all passed.’ And I said: ‘Yes, absolutely. I agree.’”
In addition to livestreaming Masses and Mass-by-Phone, the diocese is planning to hold a virtual pilgrimage to Lourdes after it was forced to postpone its regular trip to the French shrine at the end of May. The online pilgrimage will include services on Facebook as well as special prayers and reflections.