Fr Nick Vaskov wanted to do something. He wanted to invoke God’s protection against the pandemic of the coronavirus, and call for the protection of the saints. He wanted to give witness to faith. So he decided to have a procession.
The procession was to take place after a Mass in Pittsburgh, where Vaskov is diocesan director of shrines. Both procession and Mass would call for divine protection from plagues, epidemics, and contagious diseases. And there would be a lot of relics.
The priest scheduled everything for March 22. And then on March 16, the diocese suspended public Masses, in response to the guidance of public health officials. And gatherings of more than just a few people were discouraged.
So Fr Vaskov’s plans had to change.
The Mass will still take place on March 22nd, but now it will be livestreamed, and Catholics encouraged to watch online.
The procession will still take place too. Catholics are invited to stand on the sidewalk along the procession route, keeping a safe distance from each other. Pittsburgh priests will carry the Blessed Sacrament, along with relics from the True Cross, St Rocco, and St Rosalia, through a Pittsburgh neighborhood. They’ll pray, and invite onlookers to do the same.
“The celebration of Holy Mass, obviously it’s a participation in the liturgy of heaven. So whether we are present or not, as the body of Christ, it has a powerful effect for the intentions that we bring there – that we want to be transformed and made new and healed, certainly in a time of a health crisis for people’s health and protection,” Vaskov told CNA.
“[The] procession … [is] bringing God into the world and bringing people hope and faith and trust. We have a great opportunity to do that,” he told CNA.
Vaskov said the idea for the Mass and procession started with the large collection of relics at St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh. Among the collection are relics from intercessors against contagious diseases, like Saints Rocco and Rosalia. Those saints will be important intercessors during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, the priest said.
“We have that opportunity here since we have the relics of many saints that are invoked in times of plague and epidemic … We just have a great opportunity on our hands to be able to do something, show people that we do trust in God in moments like this to heal and to protect,” he told CNA.
The coronavirus, COVID-19, has infected nearly 190,000 people worldwide, and killed almost 8,000. Pennsylvania’s Department of Health reported that there have been 76 cases of the viruses in the state.
As many dioceses have closed their churches in response to the pandemic, Vaskov said there is need to be creative ways to involve people in prayer and spiritual practices, even if those are digital opportunities.
The priest told a story about Saint Charles Borromeo who, during a plague in 1500s Italy, would set up Mass on the street corners and people would pray through the windows of their apartments.
“That was a creative way to allow people to draw near to the Lord. We look now to digital ways to do that, and maybe other ways,” he said.
“Just because the church is closed doesn’t mean that we’re sitting here doing nothing, we’re going to do all the more.
“If nothing [else], this is going to be our own prayer for our people during this time. So praying with and for each other is going to be such an important part of this.”
Vaskov said the Mass for protection, streamed online, will not replace the reception of the Eucharist, but it will still be a powerful experience of prayer and unity. He told CNA he hopes the event will bring peace to people who feel stress or anxiety over the virus.
“It doesn’t replace for them what it means to go to Mass and to receive the Eucharist, but it certainly is a help, during challenging days, for so many people with anxiety and worry,” he said.
“[This event is a way] to have interactions with people digitally or opportunities for people to ask questions. People are worried and anxious and they look to the Church, they look to saints,” he said.
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