Prayerful Participation in an Online Mass

Posted by Carolyn Pirtle on Mar 21, 2020 7:16:00 AM
Carolyn Pirtle

20-0320 Blog Photo

This Sunday, like many of my fellow Catholics, I’ll be participating in Mass via live-stream. This is a totally new experience for me, and, I suspect, will be a little strange. Many in Catholic media like Nick Mayrand (a participant in the McGrath Institute’s Strong Foundations for Pastoral Leaders program and writer at Crux) are asking how this might be done well. Here are a few things I’m personally going to try in order to make this mediated Mass more fruitful.

1. Dress up.

When I go to Mass at my parish, I usually try to dress at least as nicely as I do for work. Working from home this past week, my professional wardrobe has gotten, shall we say, a bit of a break. But I plan to dress up for Mass this Sunday, because it will help me make the mental shift from just hanging around my house to entering into the Eucharistic celebration. If dressing up for Mass isn’t a usual practice for you at all, give it a try. The way we dress has more of an impact on the way we act than we realize. Perhaps it impacts the way we pray as well.

2. Prepare beforehand.

If you plan to live-stream Mass this Sunday, “arrive” five minutes early. Not only will this allow you to ensure that your technology is working properly, but more importantly, it will give you a few minutes to prepare your heart. Before Mass begins, think about what you’re about to participate in. Make an intentional offering of the fact that you’re not able to participate as you normally would, and perhaps do so in solidarity with those who were already unable to attend Mass—the elderly, the sick, the homebound.

3. Light a candle or two.

There’s something remarkable about the act of lighting a candle, especially when one strikes a match to do so, as opposed to using a lighter. It’s so simple, but it’s so intentional, so care-ful. And then there’s the candle itself, with its gentle, flickering, living light. Not only can lighting a candle be a beautiful reminder of the light of Christ received at Baptism (or, for catechumens, the light of Christ they wait to receive), but it also parallels the lighting of candles that takes place before every Mass, allowing us to enter into the celebration in a more concrete, incarnational way.

4. Pray the responses aloud and perform the liturgical gestures reverently.

This may seem a little strange, but then again, the Mass isn’t a spectator sport. Whether we experience it in person or through the mediation of the Internet, the Mass invites—insists upon—our participation, interiorly and exteriorly. Interior participation is how we join our hearts to what we hear, say, and do; exterior participation manifests our interior attitude. Gestures like the Sign of the Cross and blessing our heads, lips, and heart at the Gospel allow us to literally embody our thoughts and words, and everything works together to deepen our participation in the liturgy. 

5. Pray using the prescribed postures. 

Posture takes the embodiment of gesture one step farther. Sitting is a posture of receptivity; it encourages us to hear and receive the Word of God. Standing is a posture of affirmation, of solidarity. When you stand with or for something or someone, you identify yourself with that cause or person. When we stand for the Gospel, we are in a sense identifying ourselves with Christ, listening to his words intently so that we might be conformed to him more fully. Finally, kneeling is a posture of humility and reverence. It opens us up to receiving the graces being offered to us in the Eucharist. Even when we’re not physically able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we can still make an Act of Spiritual Communion, humbly asking Jesus to come and dwell in our hearts.

6. Sing along!

No seriously. Sing out loud. Singing is very different from speaking. When you sing, you have to conform your breath to the demands of the music—inhaling when appropriate (e.g., not in the middle of a word), and exhaling in a sustained way to sing the musical line properly. Singing entails a kind of dying to self: you can’t sing the music any old way you want to. (I mean, you can, but it won’t be beautiful. And other people will be annoyed with you.) If singing makes you uncomfortable, just look at it as one more beautiful sacrifice you can make for our Lord, who delights in your voice no matter what.

7. Coordinate with family or friends and watch the same Mass.

I live alone, far away from my family and my closest friends. And even though I’m a textbook introvert, isolation has been tough. So I’ve become all the more intentional about checking in with the people I love. Recently, my best friend from college invited me to participate in her family’s nightly Rosary via FaceTime. It was sheer gift, and we’re planning to make this a regular practice, even after the time of isolation ends.
Whether you live alone or not, consider reaching out to family or friends and deciding together which Mass you’ll live-stream. This will provide a sense of solace, solidarity, and community, and afterward, you can chat together about the readings or engage in discussion around the proper texts you just prayed.

If you’ve discovered other practices that make participating in Mass via live-stream more fruitful, feel free to share them in the comment section. The most important thing is not to give up on prayer, to persevere in your relationship with God in the days, weeks, and months ahead, however you can.

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Topics: COVID-19 Resources

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