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Religious celebration goes into cyberspace in Armagh

By Ann Marie Foley - 30 April, 2020

Archbishop Eamon Martin

Parishes in the Archdiocese of Armagh have taken to cyberspace like never before, and the digital highways have seen many religious celebrations and even some crashes, according to Archbishop Eamon Martin.

“We’ve been flooding the digital highways with Eucharistic celebration, adoration, praying the Rosary and Benediction and other prayer moments, so much so that we’ve crashed our ‘live-feeds’!” Archbishop Martin told Catholicireland.net.

Webcam providers have reported that millions of people across the country gather virtually for Mass each week. Church Services TV, which works with the Armagh Archdiocese, RTÉ and many others, has seen huge increases in the numbers of viewers, unique viewers (repeat views from one household/community which could have several members), as well as hours of viewing.

Unique viewers of the Archdiocese of Armagh services have gone from an initial figure of more than 100 to almost 9,000 on 20 April 2020. The hours of viewing have gone from more than 50 to 5,000-plus. While the online services were aimed at parishioners of the diocese who could not physically attend church due to COVID-19, they have also attracted global interest with viewers from more than 30 countries from Australia to USA, Indonesia and Kuwait, to name but a few.

The Mass and other services are available online on the diocesan and other websites, as well as Facebook Live and YouTube.

“Thanks to this digital technology many of us have been helped to remain in ‘spiritual communion’ with Christ and with one another,” said Archbishop Martin. “Of course it is unusual for us to be offering Mass these days without our congregation physically present – but the sacrifice of the Mass is no less effective. The Church reminds us that even if the faithful are unable to be physically present, the Eucharist remains the most essential and privileged moment in our day – the summit and source of all the Church’s activity.”

The Archbishop has been celebrating daily Mass from St Patrick’s Cathedral, and for daily Mass and Sunday Mass there is the armaghparish.net webcam. Mobile (smartphone or tablet) technology is used for other locations outside the church; for example, the archbishop celebrated Mass in the cemetery as COVID-19 prevented people from visiting the graves of their loved ones.

This mobile technology can also be used for broadcasting from a small oratory or from home, and many priests are using it in this way (see ‘Mass of the living God from the living room’ on Catholicireland.net, 18 April 2020).

Archbishop Martin has the sense that, while not in physical attendance, the parish community is with him in these moments in spiritual communion in the online spaces as they worship together.

“Our vocation sends us out to be as close as we safely can to our people – to offer them the comfort of Christ’s presence: by telephone, email, social media, webcam and in person, with the appropriate life-saving precautions. Our calling as priests remains strong in this crisis: to be with our people, to encourage them, to bring them the hope and consolation of Word and sacrament,” he said.

He acknowledges, however, that it has been difficult for everyone.

“Although it is heart-breaking that our congregations cannot gather to worship as a community, it is heartening that people have more quality time for family, and more space for stillness, reflection and prayer at home,” he said.

The Archdiocese of Armagh provides online resources here for parishes such as talks, prayers and videos which will help people pray at home. For people who are not able to access the internet and social media, such resources can be printed off and distributed.

Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ is also transmitting Mass on television from Monday to Friday and on Sundays on its digital RTÉ News Now channel.

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