Online Together: Gathering for Communal Prayer During the Coronavirus Pandemic

From religious sisters to seminarians, the People of God are uniting in faith.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist livestream their prayers so the faithful can participate.
The Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist livestream their prayers so the faithful can participate. (photo: Courtesy of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist)

Habited nuns praying in unison.

The sounds of Catholic life in the convent were once largely confined to the sisters and local faithful near the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Now the sisters’ communal prayer can be heard by a wider audience amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dominican Sisters of Mary, a teaching community, which, in recent years, has branched out to provide Catholic content online, has begun livestreaming Masses and prayers. 

Sister John Dominic explained to the Register, “Our sole intention in doing so is to give people the opportunity to pray with us … those participating can hear the sisters praying and singing.”

The community has 145 sisters in smaller communities throughout the U.S. The sisters have implemented such CDC guidelines as social distancing in common areas and are teaching classes online.

The sisters have been praying for an end to the pandemic, including with a Marian procession around their Ann Arbor motherhouse and a novena to St. Joseph. Friends of the community are invited to join the sisters for prayer virtually on their YouTube channel; up to 1,000 souls nationwide have been watching.

The coronavirus crisis has had an unprecedented effect on the Catholic Church throughout the world, including on seminaries, religious communities, parishes and individual parish groups who gather for communal prayer. All have had to adjust the ways they function as they pray for the end of the pandemic and a return to a more normal life in the Church, with many turning to technology to facilitate gathering.

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) reported that most attending its seminary in Wigratzbad, Germany, had been infected with the coronavirus in early March, and the community was placed under strict quarantine, with some members having been sent to the hospital. 

In an effort to prevent a similar situation from occurring at St. Patrick’s Seminary & University in Menlo Park, California, rector Father Daniel Donohoo sent 47 seminarians home on March 16. 

Anthony Lilles, St. Patrick’s academic dean, told the Register that Father Donohoo had made the decision in conjunction with San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, as they “discerned that the best way to protect the welfare of our men was to return them to the care of their local dioceses. We believed that this would best facilitate social distancing as well as the spiritual discipline these days require.”

The seminary has since continued its classes online, with seminarians participating in lectures with their professors from their own homes via virtual, real-time classroom experiences on Google Meet and the seminary’s Student Management System. 

In regards to prayers, seminarians must now maintain their spiritual lives largely on their own, with all required to say morning and evening prayers and many opting to pray such devotions as the Rosary. 

Echoing the opinion of one of the seminary’s spiritual directors, Lilles said that, at this time, “we must spend more time in prayer and silence, interceding for the world and for the Church.”

Spiritual direction is being provided to the seminarians on the phone and via email, however, with local priests providing confession and mentoring. 

Some seminarians are living in rectories and have the opportunity to assist at private Masses. As Lilles said, “While not ideal circumstances, our men are very blessed to have strong presbyterates that are stepping up to the occasion.”

The communal prayer lives of the 42 brothers of the Brotherhood of Hope, who evangelize on five major secular college campuses in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Minnesota, has largely remained unchanged. 

Brothers live in homes near their college campuses and continue to chant the Liturgy of the Hours and engage in praise and worship and meditative prayer in their chapels. Yet while the community prayer life is the same, the way the brothers engage with students has changed dramatically.

Previously, brothers met with students in small and large groups and for one-on-one counseling. Students have been sent home during the pandemic, however, and the brothers now hold meetings online and conduct one-on-one counseling over the phone or via video link-up. 

Brother Ken Apuzzo, general superior, told the Register, “We are encouraging our students to continue staying connected with one another through meeting with small groups virtually.”

The community will soon livestream a daily Mass celebrated by its founder, Father Philip Merdinger, “something we wouldn’t have envisioned doing a month ago.”

In a letter to his community, Brother Ken wrote, “Despite the necessity of having to distance ourselves from each other and even cancelling church services, Jesus is with us always! We need not face any fear connected to this virus alone. He is with us! Jesus will especially walk with the sick through this dark valley. You are not alone!”

Dioceses across the country are livestreaming Masses as a way to unite the faithful in prayer. 

Bishop Robert Deeley of the Diocese of Portland, Maine, for example, celebrated a livestreamed Mass March 22 at an empty Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. Joining the bishop were two priests, an organist and cantor, a reader and some altar servers for a total of nine in a church that seats 900. 

As Bishop Deeley told the Register, “Though we cannot see one another through this livestream, we know we are present to each other and strengthened by the conviction that the love of God in Jesus binds us together and calls us to care for each other.”

Many of the diocese’s parishes offer livestreamed Masses, as well as some “drive-thru” confessions. 

St. Michael parish in Augusta prays a Chaplet of Divine Mercy livestreamed on Facebook; other parishes livestream the Rosary and Stations of the Cross. 

School principals, the bishop added, “are gathering the children for prayer at the beginning of the school day through the technology that is available to them. The prayer begins the lessons of the day, trying to keep the education of the children moving forward.”

On the opposite coast, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez has encouraged similar livestreaming of Masses and devotions on the part of parishes and plans to livestream his upcoming celebration of the chrism Mass and Sacred Paschal Triduum in the archdiocesan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He has also asked parishes with bell systems to revive the tradition of ringing their bells at noon and 6pm “as a sign of solidarity and hope.”

Individual parish spirituality groups are making use of technology to continue meetings. 

For the past 40 years, for example, Deacon Steve Greco of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Irvine, California, has led a men’s Scripture study and prayer group on Friday mornings. With the onset of COVID-19, the group is now meeting via conference call, with the first meeting drawing 12 participants. The men, the deacon said to the Register, “thanked me profusely for not giving up and not having the meeting.”

Jim Pipp, a seven-year participant, is one of those excited that the group will be able to continue. He explained, “It’s been a great opportunity to share our faith and connect with one another during a difficult time. I especially enjoy hearing the different viewpoints about particular Scriptures; I really get some nuggets of truth that increase my faith.  We all cherish being a part of it and are thankful it is able to continue.”

As Deacon Greco added, “There are many things you can do on the phone and internet. Pray together, especially the Rosary; have a Bible sharing; or talk about how God is giving you strength in this most challenging time.”

Jim Graves writes from Newport Beach, California.

Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Joseph Cordileone attends the mass and imposition of the Pallium upon the new metropolitan archbishops held by Pope Francis for the Solemnity of Saint Peter and Paul at Vatican Basilica on June 29, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican.

A New Era?

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco has a profound understanding of what the U.S. bishops have called the preeminent issue of our time, and his stand is courageous.