Bringing Mass to the Masses Amid Coronavirus

‘With Your Spirit’ is an online Mass and devotional database built by Catholics for Catholics during this coronavirus pandemic.

As many of us are spending the solitary days of the coronavirus quarantine within the confines of our home, many learning the ropes of homeschooling, some picking up new habits like reading aloud as a family, others perhaps binging on the latest Netflix show or a favorite movie to pass the time and keep calm, two siblings in Silicon Valley, Mary Ioannidis and Rick Minno, took a weekend and built an entire online database, putting every Mass online at your fingertips.

The idea of building a site was borne out of the true need to find Masses. With new reports out every day of the virus spreading to every part of the world alongside staggering numbers of cases and fatalities, Mary says her faith is her foundation — and being seven months pregnant, she could not imagine not having the peace that Mass offers.

“I spent 2nd-8th grade going to Mass daily at my tiny Catholic school in Wexford, Pennsylvania. Thanks to that foundation, attending Mass is now how I find refuge and peace. As I advance in my career, I find it to be a powerful tool to keep me grounded, provide perspective and reconnect spiritually. I’m also seven months pregnant so I need refuge and peace more than ever. The very thought of being unable to attend Mass due to the pandemic was frightening.”

With Mary’s current role working in product marketing for Google Assistant and Rick’s software engineering skill set, the two built a site that is extremely user-friendly and very easy to navigate. Mary knew she wouldn’t be the only one worried about where she could attend Mass online.

“The management of all the information was equally overwhelming — how would I know what time St. Patrick’s in New York City was livestreaming its mass? What about daily Mass? Struggling with those questions, I called my brother who is a software engineer. We started chatting about ways to make it easier for Catholics like me to find and join Mass.”

Aptly named With Your Spirit, the site allows users to search anywhere in the country for online Masses, Rosaries and other prayers. Rick says the name perfectly encapsulates the entire purpose of the site.

“Branding has always been a fun hobby for Mary and me. It can often spark the inspiration of a new idea or fuel a current one. The challenge is less so coming up with a name as it is exploring the message and emotion of the brand. We wanted something that was familiar to Catholics and provided a sense of community and togetherness. At that point, With Your Spirit practically named itself.”

Although the online Mass can never replace the full experience in person, new studies have shown that many around the world are turning to God during this time of crisis — and when church doors are locked — there is a real need for online resources.

“While a livestream mass can’t replace the experience of attending our local church on Sunday, it’s a powerful way to maintain our relationship with God during these challenging times. I find myself wrapped up in the news and fear surrounding coronavirus, but I make time daily to go back to Christ. Whether it’s reading spiritual books, saying prayers or watching livestream Masses, maintaining regular interactions with Jesus is the healthiest thing I can do mentally, spiritually, and physically.”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Catholics have now been making Spiritual Communions and continuing our Lenten season the only way possible — through online Masses and prayers. At the start, there’s been some growing pains and at times, we question the authenticity of our experience — not receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus. Mary, like many of us, has been moved by this online experience, most recently with the Pope’s call to prayer, and his Urbi et Orbi blessing standing alone in an empty St. Peter’s Square.

“Two years ago when I was working at Facebook, I had the opportunity to travel to Rome for work. My husband came with me and we used it as an opportunity to visit the Vatican and, as a newly married couple, we had the chance to briefly interact with the Holy Father. Standing in St. Peter’s Square on that hot July day was life-changing. It was simply the most peaceful, divine experience. I felt overcome with gratitude and tranquility. Watching Pope Francis a few days ago on that rainy evening, he spoke to a seemingly empty St. Peter’s Square. But the celebration of our faith was far from desolate — instead he was joined online by faithful Catholics around the world who heard his message about our world being sick far before coronavirus, led the world in an Our Father and reminded us that we are all in one boat together. That is the beauty of technology. What was once available to only those with physical proximity is now decentralized and available to all those with a will to find it.”

Catholics and parishes across the country have expressed gratitude for With Your Spirit. The website also offers an easy way to integrate your own parish Mass times if it appears to be missing.  With the incredible talent and fervent Catholic devotion that Mary and Rick both have, the project can thrive and grow in many directions, but it really comes down to identifying the needs Catholics in quarantine may have. Rick says the work is a blessing.

“The project has been received so positively by parishes and Catholic communities around the country. We feel blessed to have an opportunity to make such a positive impact on people’s lives during a time that can sometimes feel overwhelming due to uncertainty and dissonance. We’re working on a short-term roadmap of website improvements that hopefully continue to connect Catholics with God and each other.”

The talented team are still considering other tools for Catholics during this difficult and often lonely time for many. With weeks and potentially months still to go in isolation and quarantine, Mary hopes to find more ways to use the gift of technology to reach the faithful.

“Truthfully, we want to deliver whatever the Church needs to help Catholics thrive in their faith during this time of uncertainty,” she says. “Whether that takes the form of a daily email with spiritual guidance or the ability to schedule time to talk to a priest is still to be determined. But we are ready, willing and able to build technology to strengthen the faith.”