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‘The door of the internet church has swung open’

April 17th, 2020 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

The temporary altar set up by Fr Tom Hayes, including his laptop, for saying Mass and broadcasting it online from the Parochial House in Enniskeane.

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Enniskeane parish priest Fr Tom Hayes has embraced a new world where his laptop sits alongside his bible on the altar. He has also learned how to facilitate online communication between his bishop and the priests of the diocese, a vital link for all during this pandemic

I NEVER thought I’d say Mass with a mouse on the altar!

Little did I think that there would be a Holy Thursday when I wouldn’t be with a congregation of people giving thanks for the mass.

Writing ‘private’ and ‘funeral’ in the same sentence goes against all my Irish instincts.

But these are among the strange realities that Covid-19 has brought about.

Priests are no longer permitted to offer mass with a congregation present (with the exception of a family at a funeral mass), so now many priests are praying privately at home.

For some others, the only visible way to connect with parishioners is online.

Distancing people from one another at the time of a funeral is the most difficult part of the necessary regulations that have been introduced to beat this virus.

But it’s the exact opposite of our normal reactions when someone we know is bereaved.

Families who are bidding a farewell to a loved one nowadays are travelling that road alone, but for the priest.

The blanket of community support that wraps people, the trays of food that arrive, the queues at funeral homes where people compare the price of calves while waiting their turn to sympathise, have all been shelved.

There is something poignant and powerfully consoling to have mass offered for one who is crossing the threshold to eternity. While we are permitted to do so, we will.

To help people remain in touch with mass, many priests have been on a sharp learning curve. They are learning new applications and terminology.

Priests who never engaged with social media are now racking up view counts and receiving messages from people far and wide. Parishioners with IT skills are coming to the fore in parishes.

It’s become clear from people’s reactions that being connected to one another spiritually and socially is very important.

A lot of people are in all kinds of isolation and for the people who have never been ones to stay indoors, this is a real cross to carry.

Broadcasting mass is not easy. Broadcasting anything takes a lot of preparation.

Some parishes and priests are struggling with poor internet coverage — church walls are often a few feet of solid stone!

I’ve put myself on a crash-course to become familiar with video-conferencing with the help of a few parishioners in Enniskeane.

As a result, I am now using it to facilitate meetings between Bishop Fintan Gavin in Cork and priests of the diocese who are based anywhere between Watergrasshill and Goleen. Instead of having what we used to call ‘diocesan conferences’ we are now having ‘webinars’ and online meetings. It is comforting to be able to see and hear one another at this time, too.

It’s been inspiring to see even our most senior priests logging into a Zoom meeting with the bishop and contributing their wisdom as we plot a course through these extraordinary waters.

Using the same technology, we have broadcast mass from Enniskeane parish to reach people near us and far away. It is also possible to connect with the homes of people who have important ministries in the mass.

So, for, example, we continue to include our readers who now read online from their homes and can be seen and heard.

Choir members lead the singing from their own homes, children read the Prayers of the Faithful from two other homes in turn.

We can display onscreen the words of the hymns that are being sung, so people can sing and pray with us.

The ‘new’ altar has a few additions: a laptop, a keyboard, a wireless mouse, a USB microphone – and an iPhone on standby, lest the broadband link drop!

Above all, it creates a virtual and a real praying community. And people also see others joining from their homes as the door of the internet church swings open.

The parish Facebook page is www.facebook.com/enniskeane and Good Friday Stations of the Cross will also be broadcast here.

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