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Livestreamed Masses have been successful, but not meant to become future of church

Live: Kedron parish priest Franciscan Father Mario Debattista celebrates Mass live on Facebook.

BRISBANE families have swapped out church pews for living room couches as thousands tuned in to watch livestreamed Masses across Lent and Easter amid coronavirus lockdown.

Most of the Brisbane parishes that had livestreaming capabilities had hundreds of households engaging with Easter Masses.

Kedron parish priest Franciscan Father Mario Debattista said he had some trouble getting the livestreamed Masses up and running in the first week when the lockdown restrictions were announced, but now had a routine in place.

He celebrated Masses from the chapel at Padua College, which had the WiFi capabilities for livestreaming that Little Flower Church did not.

The Masses streamed over Facebook Live while on another laptop he had faces and names present on Zoom to give responses and participate more directly in the Masses.

He said there were hundreds of households tuning into Kedron parish Masses over the Easter Triduum.

But even with the strong numbers, he did not want livestreaming to replace Masses in-person when the coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

“Bear in mind, livestream Masses are only there as an emergency, it is not to be seen as somehow the future or the new norm or is replacing… because it’s not,” he said.

“As Christians, we have always valued and meant to celebrate the sacraments in person with each other.

“We’re incarnational spirituality; the Word became Flesh; it did not become through the screen.

“The screen does not replace the reality.

“I think we need to make the distinction between a tool and the reality, and I think as wonderful and as helpful as the internet and screens and everything is, we’ve got to remember that it’s a tool not the end-point.”

He said he hoped people would also come to appreciate the value and meaning of coming together physically for Mass.

“Hopefully after all this happened, people will have a greater desire to come together for Eucharist; rather than the opposite, of getting used to not going – I’d be really sad if that happens,” he said.

Fr Mario Debattista: “We’re incarnational spirituality; the Word became Flesh; it did not become through the screen.”

The experience of celebrating Mass over livestream was not the same, he said.

Being present at a church Mass with people there, responding out loud, brought a lot of energy between the faithful and the celebrant, he said.

“In livestreaming, it’s kind of missing,” he said.

“You know there’s people watching but you’ve kind of got to tell yourself that.

“There’s no immediate feedback.”

He said he deeply missed seeing and meeting with the faithful in-person every Sunday.

In Burleigh Heads parish, where livestreamed Masses had been successful, parish priest Fr Morgan Batt said there was an important distinction – livestreamed Masses were celebrated in empty buildings, but not empty churches.

“It’s a full church, but an empty building,” he said.

He said the whole experience had been a learning curve.

Over the course of the livestreamed Masses, he had made a conscious effort not to do the responses of the Mass so that people could participate over the livestream.

The parish had positive feedback to that style, he said.

“It’s really interesting because people have said to me, ‘My family comes to Mass with me now, but they never used to’,” he said.

“They’ll come to Mass in the lounge room and watch.”

In that sense, livestreams across the archdiocese had brought a new audience to evangelise.

But even so, the faithful did not want livestreams to replace gathering in-person, Fr Batt said.

“I think what this is capturing, in my understanding, is (people) like listening to their local priest,” he said.

“They like hearing the voice of their personal or their parish shepherd.

“That can only come about because there’s been human contact beforehand.”

St Stephen’s Cathedral had recorded high numbers at Easter and retained those numbers over the last week of Masses.

One observation from the archdiocese was that the livestreamed numbers started high and continued until after the Concluding Rite, which meant people were staying for the full hour of Mass.

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