Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is joined by the priests of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, and his master of ceremonies at the livestream Mass on Holy Saturday.  Video Screenshot
Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is joined by the priests of St. Rose Parish, Belmar, and his master of ceremonies at the livestream Mass on Holy Saturday. Video Screenshot
" We were isolated in our homes, but, through the capabilities of technology, we were all together, one Body in Christ. "
The internet was never so integral to the practice of the faith as during this year’s Holy Week and Easter, and the worldwide quarantine against COVID-19.

When it became clear that 2020 would be like no other year before it, parishes of the Diocese moved quickly to provide livestreaming of their Masses. By the time Holy Week had arrived, more than 50 parishes had succeeded in securing a virtual Mass participation for their communities via their websites, YouTube, or other social media sites.  A list of available Masses maintained by The Monitor staff was updated nearly every day with additional parishes that wanted to be added.

Overwhelming Engagement

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., announced that he would celebrate the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter without a congregation from St. Rose Church, Belmar, with a small group of the parish’s priests and liturgical ministers. The Bishop was principal celebrant for the Masses and liturgies, beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in the Easter Vigil, which together garnered well over 100,000 views in real time and afterward.  

“It is evident that Catholics have a real hunger for the Mass, especially Holy Week Masses and liturgies,” said Marianne Hartman, director of the diocesan department of Multimedia Production. Hartman’s department consulted with St. Rose personnel throughout the week in their efforts to wire the Belmar church, install cameras and set up the feed to the diocesan YouTube channel. The result of this effort enabled the faithful to experience the tradition-rich liturgies, celebrate a spiritual Communion and be enriched by the Bishop’s homilies.

Statistics on viewership of the Easter Vigil provided an unquestionable testament to the faithful’s desire to be connected through technology as the Church commemorated Christ’s Resurrection. Roughly 35,000 watched the livestream of the nearly 90-minute liturgy, with 3,160 concurrent, or real-time viewers, at its peak. Subsequent views boosted this total (as of print time) to nearly 65,000 views with an average viewing time of 6:37.

Hartman reported the video of the Mass garnered more than 300 “likes” and numerous comments and greetings reflecting viewers’ Easter joy.

“I was so moved by the comments,” Hartman recalled. “I got choked up reading how appreciative people were to find the Mass online. [People] were grateful to be part of the celebration, and of course, everyone loves to hear Bishop O’Connell preach.”

Hartman admitted to being pleasantly surprised, not only about the number of views of the Vigil Mass, but also with its geographical reach. In addition to “hits” in the United States and neighboring Mexico and Canada, people from nearly 40 other countries tuned in, including the United Kingdom, the Philippines, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Spain, Germany, Kenya, Ghana, Guam, Nigeria, France, Kuwait, Egypt, the Netherlands and more.

The Easter Vigil livestream proved to be a labor of love for those behind the scenes and a spiritual boon for those who participated.  “The livestreaming of Holy Week and Easter liturgies was a great gift that the Bishop gave, not just to the Diocese but people all over the world,” Hartman said. “We were isolated in our homes, but, through the capabilities of technology, we were all together, one Body in Christ.”

Other Video Outreach

Parish priests recognized very quickly that their communities were responding in significant numbers to parish-produced video before and during Holy Week. The priests and their teams embraced video and other media to stay in contact with the faithful, many of whom were struggling because they could not take part in some of the most solemn and sacred observances of the Church year.

One priest played piano for a moving meditation. Others produced unique presentations of the Stations of the Cross with music and powerful images. Many shared a bit of good humor and comforting words in special Holy Week video messages.

The approaches were unique, but the purpose was the same – to connect parishioners at home with their faith communities and the traditions of Holy Week and Easter in an unprecedented time. Some of these efforts have been shared on the diocesan YouTube channel in a special playlist.

The more than 20 videos shared to date represent a variety of worship experiences such as praying the Stations of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration. There were also many priests who offered teachings on the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday) as well as encouraging messages on how to make the most of Holy Week during the pandemic.

Hartman extended appreciation to parishes that submitted their videos as well, saying she believed that they can serve as a tool to help the Diocese’s faithful connect as an online community.

“We are once again reminded that we are not alone,” she said.

To view the playlist of videos produced by priests for Holy Week, visit YouTube.com/trentondiocese.

Christina Leslie, correspondent, and Rayanne Bennett, associate publisher, contributed to this story.