Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., the Archbishop of Newark, celebrated Mass in a small Newark chapel Sunday for a live social media broadcast intended to nourish the faithful affected by the suspension of Sunday Mass amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
The scene was striking in its simplicity, yet the moment was historic and believed to be without precedent. A small video crew made up the only congregants in the round Archdiocesan chapel that holds about 45 people.
The Mass was without fanfare. There was no music. No incense. A single liturgical lay minister read in Spanish. During the consecration, Cardinal Tobin broke the Eucharist in two and shared it with Deacon Asterio Velasco, the coordinator of the Archdiocesan Hispanic Ministry. The pair co-celebrated a bilingual Mass that lasted 45 minutes.
At least 3,000 Catholic faithful tuned in to watch live. Many of them prayed along in the chat window and commented with an “amen,” or the clasped hands prayer Emoji. Cardinal Tobin addressed them directly through the lens of a single high-definition camera that was linked to the web.
The Cardinal’s homily was draped in the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, which he referenced numerous times, suggesting that, “we are walking in uncharted territory,” and that “this is the strangest Lent we have ever experienced.”
“At the beginning of Lent, we asked each other what we were going to do for this holy season,” Cardinal Tobin said. “Many of us asked, ‘what are you going to give up for Lent?’ For us Catholic Christians, the sudden, unexpected deprivation goes infinitely further, touching the source of our identity, strength and peace. None of us ever thought at the beginning of Lent, 2020, we would mark the Third Sunday of Lent by being deprived of the Eucharist.”
Three days earlier, Cardinal Tobin dispensed the 1.3 million Catholics of the Archdiocese from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and issued a temporary suspension of all Sunday masses.
“Knowing the centrality of the Eucharist for all of us, it was not an easy decision to make,” he said after the noon chapel Mass.
The livestream was broadcast on the Archdiocese of Newark’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/nwkarchdiocese, where it is now archived. It also can be accessed on the Archdiocese of Newark’s Facebook and Twitter channels, @nwkarchdiocese, and at www.rcan.org.
During his message, the Cardinal offered spiritual direction to help the faithful process the scenes of panic and concerns over the spreading virus. He also commented on social distancing in the context of Christian love.
“The only way our worship avoids becoming empty narcissism is if it is based on a real love for God that is manifested in a love for our neighbors, especially those who suffer,” Cardinal Tobin said. “The circumstances of this Lent invites us to worship God in spirit and in truth, in our suffering brothers and sisters. This worship cannot be limited to simply social distancing – as important as that practice is in preventing the suffering of the most vulnerable among us. We are not simply to retreat to our homes with our arms full of stuff that we think will save us – save us from sickness, boredom or deprivation from comfort food. Far from being an act of self-preservation, social distancing only makes Christian sense if it is an act of solidarity. The coronavirus teaches a harsh lesson: we are connected to each other, whether we like it or not.”
After evaluating recommendations of state and health officials, Cardinal Tobin is weighing a decision on whether public Masses should be celebrated next weekend. He said he will make a decision later this week. The archbishop formed an Archdiocesan Coronavirus Response Task Force comprised of clergy, religious, lay leaders, and medical professionals, which meets daily.
Meanwhile, the celebration of daily Mass will continue. Churches of the Archdiocese remain open and the faithful are encouraged to pray privately while maintaining a prudent distance from each other.
Cardinal Tobin also has advised that scheduled sacramental celebrations such as weddings, baptisms, or funerals will be permitted, but attendance should be limited to immediate family members only. Further, the sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation will remain available, as needed, by the faithful.
As part of the Archdiocese of Newark’s proactive efforts, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese will be closed beginning, Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 20. This decision was made out of an abundance of caution with the health and safety of students, staff, and families at the center of the decision. The situation will be re-assessed by the Task Force to determine if an extension is needed.
Religious education activities also are suspended throughout the Archdiocese for this weekend, March 14-15 and for the week of March 16-20.
“Our dedicated teams continue to actively monitor the unfolding pandemic and will continue to meet daily to assess changing circumstances in order to protect the faithful and support its parishes and schools,” said Cardinal Tobin. “We encourage pastors to think about necessary activities and to postpone non-essential gatherings, keeping in mind the common good.”
Visit www.Rcan.org for updates and to read a transcript of today’s Mass.
Follow RCAN on Twitter: @NwkArchdiocese.