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BALTIMORE (CNS) -- If all the people watching the livestream of the 11 a.m. Mass March 15 at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore had been in the cathedral itself, it would have been filled to capacity.
Instead, as Archbishop William E. Lori canceled all Masses around the archdiocese as of 6 p.m. March 14, the archbishop celebrated a private Mass in the Lady Chapel that was broadcast live on the cathedral's YouTube channel, with 1,780 people watching at one point, and consistently more than 1,600.
With the coronavirus pandemic limiting large gatherings, the Mass was attended only by the archbishop, four priests, a deacon, an altar server, a lector, two musicians, an archdiocesan staff member and one cathedral staff member who handled the live feed.
A similar scene took place in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, where at least 3,000 Catholics watched a live social media broadcast of Sunday Mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin in a small archdiocesan chapel. A small video crew made up the only congregants in the round Newark chapel that holds about 45 people.
In Baltimore, Archbishop Lori said in his homily, "We gather this Sunday at a time unprecedented in living memory. As the coronavirus continues to spread, we are facing a global pandemic, a pandemic that has hit home, here in Maryland." Those afflicted in Maryland number at least 26, but Archbishop Lori noted the number who are actually infected may be higher.
"I'm neither a prophet nor a medical expert, but I think we should be prepared to see this crisis become much worse before it becomes better and, God-willing, passes into the history books," he said.
He referred to recommended measures to keep people safe and to prevent the spread of the virus and noted that all should take those to heart "for your own sake and also for the sake of others.
"In the meantime, what should we do as followers of Christ and members of his church, to maintain our spiritual health in the midst of this crisis?" he asked.
He urged people to continue to pursue their life of prayer vigorously and stay close to the Lord Jesus and to the church, even if they cannot attend public Masses in the weeks ahead.
Daily prayer is the primary way to do this and "does not have to be elaborate and lengthy but these days we should make a point of setting aside additional time for prayer," he said. "We should surely ask the Lord to grant eternal life and peace to those who have already succumbed to the virus. We should pray for those who are currently struggling with it, and for those who have it, but have not yet been diagnosed.
"Naturally, we will want to pray for our families and loved ones. And let us pray earnestly for researchers and health care providers and for those who must make difficult public decisions in this time of crisis. While we're at it, let's not forget to pray for the poor, the needy, and the vulnerable, especially those who do not have access to adequate health care," Archbishop Lori said.
He said it is important "for you and for me to pour out our hearts in prayer."
"When we confide our needs to the Lord in heartfelt and sincere prayer, we grow in our trust in the provident love of God," he said. "I think we'd all admit that trust is something that is hard to come by in time of crisis. It may be easy to say we put our trust in God when things are going well but the real test of our trust in God comes when things seem to be falling apart."
He invited those listening to see the days and weeks ahead as an opportunity to grow in trust of God, and encouraged people to remember that "Jesus has experienced the full measure of human suffering, that the Lord suffered and died for us and for our salvation, and that, no matter what befalls us, our hope in his love will not disappoint us," Archbishop Lori said.
"In this way," he added, "we will find the grace to join our sufferings to his, and as we do so, we will come to realize something of the depth and beauty of God's love for us."
"Growth in holiness doesn't happen only when times are relatively calm and peaceful; often, we grow in God's likeness when we are called to love in extraordinary ways, as surely we are being challenged to do in these days," he said.
The archbishop concluded his homily with a novena prayer that he wrote for the faithful of the archdiocese, adapted from a prayer by Pope Francis. He invited those in the archdiocese to ask for Mary's intercession during the crisis.
Notably, the sign of peace, during which congregants usually shake hands after the consecration and Our Father, was skipped for the Mass.
At the end of Mass, Archbishop Lori referenced the National Day of Prayer for the coronavirus called for by President Donald Trump March 15 and noted that the Archdiocese of Baltimore was joining its prayers to those of all faiths in the country.
Across the country numerous archdioceses and dioceses have suspended celebration of private Masses amid the pandemic. But but Sunday remains a holy day and bishops prelates urged Catholics to observe. Catholics should still observe the Lord's Day by making a spiritual Communion while watching Mass online, on TV, or radio.
In the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bishop David L. Ricken said March 13 Catholics have been granted a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass but that Sunday Mass would continue to be celebrated in parishes throughout the diocese. Catholics not attending Mass could view it livestream from St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, as well as listen to a radio broadcast of the Mass on WBAY and Relevant Radio stations.
On March 13, Bishop Carl A. Kemme of Salina, Kansas, also granted a temporary general dispensation of the Sunday Mass obligation "until further notice." "Nevertheless, Masses will continue to be offered as scheduled and churches and chapels are to remain open for private prayer and adoration," he said.
In the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, at least 3,000 Catholics watch a live social media broadcast of Sunday Mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin in a small archdiocesan chapel. A small video crew made up the only congregants in the round Newark chapel that holds about 45 people.
The 45-minute Mass, which was bilingual, was celebrated without fanfare. There was no music and no incense. A single liturgical lay minister read in Spanish. During the consecration, Cardinal Tobin broke the Eucharist in two and shared it with Deacon Asterio Velasco, the coordinator of the Newark's archdiocesan Hispanic ministry.
Many of those watching the broadcast prayed along in the online chat window and commented with an "Amen," or the clasped-hands prayer emoji. Cardinal Tobin addressed them directly through the lens of a single high-definition camera that was linked to the web.
In his homily, the cardinal referenced the coronavirus pandemic numerous times, suggesting that "we are walking in uncharted territory," and that "this is the strangest Lent we have ever experienced."
"At the beginning of Lent, we asked each other what we were going to do for this holy season," Cardinal Tobin said. "Many of us asked, 'What are you going to give up for Lent?' For us Catholic Christians, the sudden, unexpected deprivation goes infinitely further, touching the source of our identity, strength and peace.
"None of us ever thought at the beginning of Lent, 2020, we would mark the Third Sunday of Lent by being deprived of the Eucharist."
As of March 16, at least 15 coronavirus cases in New Jersey had been confirmed; of that number, one has died.
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Gunty, associate publisher/editor of Catholic Review Media, the media arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Jai Agnish in Newark contributed to this story.