Parishes around Western Sydney and Blue Mountains have gone from opening their churches to opening their browsers to allow the celebration of Mass to continue during the coronavirus pandemic.
But what do you do in this current climate where the churches are closed, everyone is in self isolation and you can’t get a priest to celebrate Mass?
For St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community in Marsden Park, this is a real scenario.
However, the community leadership team, led by Pastoral Director Deacon Tony Hoban and his wife, Annette, have organised online liturgies to continue to worship together as a community.
“Confronted with the restriction on gathering together, I knew our community would still want to come together in some way,” Deacon Tony told Catholic Outlook.
“So we called a Zoom meeting of eight of our faith community leaders to kick around some ideas on how we could have a virtual liturgy.
“From day one at St Luke’s, Annette and I have been guided by members of the community as collaborators in leadership of the community.”
Through the online video conferencing software Zoom, St Luke’s were able to have their first virtual liturgy on Sunday 29 March, with up to 70 families tuning in to the unique experience.
The liturgy was blessed with parishioners providing music through their loungerooms, readings through the webcams, a homily and prayer intentions and words of encouragement via the ‘chat’ function.
During his homily, Deacon Tony said that the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are “wonderful” for our current time, and that they address three key topics – Life after a time of exile, God suffering with us in our trials and Jesus’ gift of true live.
“We currently might feel like we are in a kind of exile time. Certainly, as a faith community, we are exiled from being in each other’s presence and exiled from receiving the Eucharist. But after the painful period of exile came the time to return. And so we trust it will be for us.
“The God who once hung upon a Cross out of love for us, knows everything there is to know about human suffering. He is suffering with us in our current struggles.
“The gift Jesus gave Lazarus of rising from the dead was temporary. But Jesus shows us the true gift he offers us when he says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. If anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
“This is the true gift of life we are offered. This is the life God’s spirit provides us with.
“That is why, despite the current challenges we face in our world, we need to be like Peter at his best and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
“Jesus told the people near Lazarus: ‘Unbind him, let him go free.’ Jesus also offers to unbind us from those things which get in the way of our true happiness. Jesus offers to set us free from these things. We need simply to ask him to do so.”
In lieu of receiving the Eucharist, Deacon Tony organised for the community to participate in spiritual communion, and gave a Benediction from the Blessed Sacrament.
Following the success of the Sunday liturgy, St Luke’s commemorated Palm Sunday with a liturgy that was celebrated with more than 90 households and an estimated 300 people.
Following the Palm Sunday liturgy, the community plan to continue their traditional ‘Community Hour’, as Deacon Tony explained, young families are finding it tough to get by without interactions with other families. The ‘Community Hour’ will take the form of a ‘virtual morning tea’ with the options for small group interactions for families.
St Luke’s will then proceed with a further six online prayer sessions and liturgies throughout Holy Week, culminating in a celebration of a virtual Mass on Easter Sunday with Fr. Dado Haber.
Speaking about the virtual liturgy on Catholic Youth Parramatta’s At the Well podcast, youth minister Julia Hoban said that it was wonderful to be able to see the faces of the community, even though they could not be together physically.
“It was really lovely to be able to see everyone’s faces. I had it [the video call] up on gallery view at one point during the liturgy, and seeing everyone’s faces and being able to connect still. In that moment, we weren’t physically together, but we were still celebrating and praising God together,” Julia said.
“Watching everybody use technology and being able to still come together and adapt has been really wonderful to see.”
Deacon Tony said, “We are still learning as we go but we have received very encouraging words from our community members, saying that our online gathering has lifted their spirits at such a difficult time.”