By Anthony Leon
Queens, NY—After the Diocese of Brooklyn found out on March 20 that two priests had tested positive for the coronavirus, all Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Queens were forced to shut down at noon.
All public masses scheduled for Holy Week would be cancelled, an update on the Diocese website read on March 18. Holy Week, which is the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, is one of the most important periods of the year for Catholics.
An attendee at Incarnation Parish in Queens, a woman in her thirties, tested positive for COVID-19 and all public masses were cancelled as a result.
“I wanted to know how she was doing,” Reverend John O’Connor, a pastor at Incarnation Parish, said. “We knew this was going to happen eventually in our churches, but this was the first confirmed case. So, I guess you can say there was a surprise.”
Masses will now be mainstreamed online every day from various Catholic media outlets including New Evangelization Television (NET-TV). Other Holy Week content will be put out each day by DeSales Media Group, Reverend John Gribowich said. Gribowich works for DeSales Media Group, which is the Diocese of Brooklyn’s technology and communications company, and is currently residing at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Brooklyn.
Due to a lack of technological capabilities, Incarnation Parish will not be able to stream their own services, O’Connor said.
Both St. Charles Borromeo Church, and NET-TV will be putting out masses every day for people to watch, Gribowich said.
“Here at the parish, what was decided is that each day… we will have a modified prayer service… with the opportunity for people to express their own personal prayers and needs in the course of each day…” Gribowich said. “It’ll be modified to be scripture readings, psalms and singing… but we are still in the early stages of piecing together what that’s going to look like.”
Since masses have moved online, many Catholics can no longer commune with one another. However, Catholics such as Kevin Ahern and his wife, have started online faith sharing groups, in addition to weekly masses. For Holy Week, Ahern and his family, who usually attend a church in Ossining N.Y., are going to have their own celebration at home.
“We’re going to try to do at least Holy Thursday with friends of ours online,” Ahern said. “Part of the big challenge here for Catholics right now is that Catholicism is a social religion. In the catholic tradition, you worship as a community, so the fact that being isolated is really hard for Catholics right now and even if we have to do it with our friends online, we have to do something.”
A Religious Sister of Mercy who usually celebrates Holy Week with the community at her convent, Dr. Julia Upton attends a church in Whitestone. Now, she can’t celebrate with the sisters because of the coronavirus.
“They are in isolation so they can’t go out, they can’t come in,” Upton said. “So, I don’t know what’s going to happen at their house this year. I’ll probably try to join the prayer community online.”
Since people aren’t physically in church, the financial capabilities of Catholic parishes are becoming unsteady, Ahern said.
“People aren’t voluntarily giving to their local churches in terms of weekly donations so the revenue stream for donations for these churches is dropping drastically,” Ahern said.
Although Catholic masses are now online, their success once COVID-19 passes, remains to be seen.
“I think the Catholic mass can never be replaced by the online or the video format,” Ahern said. “Catholicism is very much a sensory religion. You go into a church and you touch the holy water, you smell the incest, it’s very sensory, which you can’t really replicate that online.”