Liturgical adventures during Coronavirus times

Picture above: Connemara landscape (photo © Nofarrell /


Across much of Europe, church services and other faith gatherings were very limited or non-existent at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. In many countries, churches remained open for private prayer, but there were some countries where churches were locked. For me, as perhaps for many others in these difficult times, the online services streamed by various congregations have been an unexpected blessing.

Staying closer to home during the pandemic has prompted me to explore the world of streamed Roman Catholic liturgies. I could never have anticipated just what a rich and fulfilling adventure it would be.

For many of us across Europe, the period of constrained movement extended for about six weeks from mid-March until the start of May – although in some countries, it started later and ran on right through May.

Across much of Europe, church services and other faith gatherings were very limited or non-existent. In many countries, churches remained open for private prayer, but there were some countries (such as Britain) where churches were locked.

A defining moment

A striking online encounter, one which was widely acclaimed as a very timely intervention early in the pandemic, was the unusual 22 March service presided over by the Pope on the sagrata outside St Peter’s Basilica in front of the empty square. It was a desolate scene on a rainy evening which was superbly staged, slipping seamlessly from the reading and homily (outside) to vespers (inside St Peter’s) and concluding with a urbi et orbi blessing. The homily was remarkable, with its iterative play on the words "Perché avete paura? Non avete ancora fede?" (Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?"). An English translation of that homily is available online.

The Santa Marta Masses

For many Roman Catholics, the Coronavirus period brought an unexpected bonus. For from Monday 9 March through to Monday 18 May inclusive, Pope Francis’ morning celebration of Holy Mass in the beautiful chapel of the Casa Santa Marta was streamed to the wider world. The Casa Santa Marta is the Vatican residence where Pope Francis lives.

There was a real intimacy to these daily services, despite the fact that thousands of the faithful were joining them from their own homes. I found the Pope’s off-the-cuff homilies were especially good. And a big vote of thanks to Sister Bernadette Reis whose prayerful English-language voice-over, and translations of the readings and homily, really enhanced the encounters.

The Santa Marta Masses can still be accessed online, and let’s hope they remain for posterity.

Easter Services from St Peter’s in Rome

Many Catholics across Europe could not attend in person the great services of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. These were streamed by the Vatican from St Peter’s. All are still available online. Note that in each case you can download the beautifully produced booklet (see the ‘attachments’ section of the relevant webpage) to accompany the service.

So often in these major set-piece services, we are members of a congregation of hundreds or even thousands. Yet, suddenly in 2020, there was an unexpected blessing. Alone in their own homes, Catholics across Europe were able to get a close-up view of the altar. It was a chance to feel involved in a way that some had perhaps never previously experienced. Here are links to five main services:

Oxford Diversions

With such a feast of online offerings from the Vatican, some Catholics probably never explored what was on offer from local parishes. But, for those who did, there were gems aplenty. I joined services from the University of Oxford Catholic Chaplaincy, but the real stars were services at Blackfriars and the Oxford Oratory which have been archived online.

The Dominicans at Blackfriars in Oxford streamed their daily conventual Mass and a number of other services, including Tenebrae on the last three mornings of Holy Week. Here’s a link to the Tenebrae service on Maundy Thursday.

Another memorable Blackfriars service was their Pentecost Rosary vigil.

For a dose of Tridentine style, the Oratorians in Oxford are always wonderful. Try this simple but striking Latin Tridentine Mass on the Feast of St Philip Neri (26 May). St Philip was the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory. There’s also a booklet to accompany that Mass.

Nicky Gardner
(co-editor, hidden europe magazine)