With large parts of the country having spent weeks or months in lockdown over the past year or so, the question of providing spiritual nourishment to people restricted to homes has been an important one.
Places of worship across various denominations and religions scrambled to do what they could to keep people connected with their faith, responding in agile ways to emerging needs with online offerings.
But did you know that Catholic Mass has been on free-to-air television for 50 years, allowing participation and inclusion for those without the internet or not comfortable getting online? If you think that’s only a small group, think again. More than two million people in Australia have little or no access to the internet.
Mass for You at Home, which on August 1 marked a half-century on air, started as a critical ministry to support people who couldn’t get to Mass because their health, age or circumstances didn’t allow it. That included people in hospitals and aged care facilities, people in prison and people housebound for other reasons.
When Fr Michael King started Mass for You at Home, a global pandemic was probably far from his mind. But the past 18 months, and the first suspension of public Masses in a century, showed that we always need to expect the unexpected.
It might just have been a coincidence, but the arrival of the pandemic and the change of format for Mass for You at Home aligning appears to be providential.
After decades being produced in a television studio set up to look like a church, earlier this year the production of Mass for You at Home moved to the Diocese of Wollongong.
Led by the highly creative and faith-filled Daniel Hopper and supported by a dedicated team, the move to Wollongong has revolutionised this ministry. With new and nimble technologies, the Mass is now celebrated and recorded in a light-filled co-cathedral at Fairy Meadow.
Featuring priests and lay ministers from several dioceses and diverse backgrounds, Mass for You at Home has become something of a window into the Church of today.
Sitting as it does at 6am on Sunday within a series of Christian programs on Channel 10, presenting Mass with simple yet beautiful liturgy, rich homilies, lovely music and Auslan captioning for the deaf community, Mass for You at Home is a ministry of which Catholics can be proud.
The Mass presents the rich symbolism of our faith, which will comfort those Catholics who weren’t able to go to Mass before COVID-19 as well as those who now find themselves locked down. But it also presents a prayerful experience which even the uninitiated can sense and enter into.
There is no substitute for the in-person experience of the Mass, sharing with the worshipping community, and Mass online or on TV shouldn’t become a choice. But we should commit to providing the best possible experience we can for those who can’t get to church, whether permanently or temporarily.
In reading some of the comments on Facebook and the Mass for You at Home website (www.massforyou.com.au), it is the beauty and the intimacy of the Mass, featuring close-ups and using high-definition cameras, that many people value.
The fact that Mass for You at Home is also available online and on Foxtel adds to its reach across the community, but it is the presence of free-to-air television that underscores the power of this ministry.
How many people, when flicking through the channels on a Sunday morning, might be drawn into the beauty of the production? Mass for You at Home, in its current form, brings Jesus to our TV screens and has the power to evangelise the TV-watching public. Many may find the fact it’s celebrated in under 30 minutes, without any short-cuts taken, is also a drawcard.
In fact, it is all of these aspects that come together to make Mass for You at Home the sort of experience that we could all use to introduce friends or family to the Mass. It’s a great witness to our life of prayer and worship, and an entrée into a world of beauty and wonder that might lead to participation in a parish setting.
As Mass for You at Home enters its sixth decade, you are invited to encounter this ministry. Tell your friends about it, follow and share on social media and consider if you can support it financially as it is the work of a Church in mission, proclaiming Jesus to the world.
Mass for You at Home airs on Channel 10 across Australia at 6am each Sunday. It can be viewed online from 7am AEST at www.massforyou.com.au and it is shown on Foxtel Aurora channel 173 at 10am on Sunday.
Words: NCE Team