At least half a million people are tuning in to watch Pope Francis’ morning Masses in his private chapel which are being broadcast live each day during the Covid-19 crisis.
Vatican sources confirmed that 500,000 in Italy are watching the Mass on TV2000, the Italian Bishops’ Conference television channel and that even more are watching online or listening on the radio.
The pope’s early morning Mass, celebrated each day at 7am, has traditionally been a behind closed doors celebration attended by a select group of several dozen people. A summary of his homily is then provided afterwards. Under John Paul II the morning liturgy was attended by high-profile Catholics and donors, while Benedict XVI’s was restricted to his private household.
But following the ban on public worship across Italy due to the Coronavirus, Francis took the unprecedented decision to livestream his morning liturgy on Vatican News, with broadcasters, including television and radio, given use of the feed. The pope’s angelus and Wednesday audience are also being live-streamed.
The 500,000 figure is high, given the capacity for those attending an open-air Mass in the perimeter of St Peter’s Square is around 60,000 people. Exceptional events, such as the canonisation of John Paul II and John XXIII, attracted 500,000.
Each morning, the pope starts the Mass by dedicating the liturgy to a group of people: this has included health care workers, families, the elderly and those who have died from the virus. UnoMattina, the Italian morning television show of Rai 1, broadcasts this initial prayer while many radio stations across the country then broadcast the Mass.
Italy is at the heart of the pandemic and is set to overtake China as the country with the most deaths caused by Covid-19: on Tuesday it reported 476 deaths in a single day with a total death toll of 2,978. More than 35,000 have been infected by the virus.
In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the Pope said that he had asked God to end the spread of the virus while on a visit last Sunday to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and San Marcello in Corso. The latter contains a crucifix believed to have brought an end to the 1522 plague which ravaged Rome.
“I asked the Lord to stop the epidemic: Lord, stop it with your hand. That’s what I prayed for,” Francis explained.
He also urged people not to “waste” the time spent in quarantine saying it was a time for families and communities to draw closer.
“We must rediscover the concreteness of little things, small gestures of attention we can offer those close to us, our family, our friends. We must understand that in small things lies our treasure. These gestures of tenderness, affection, compassion, are minimal and tend to be lost in the anonymity of everyday life, but they are nonetheless decisive, important.”
During the Coronavirus crisis the Vatican has been in lockdown with offices remaining open for “essential services” and with staff working from home. Today, the Pope announced that all ongoing judicial and legal procedures had been suspended.
This evening at 9pm Rome time, on the Feast of St Joseph, Francis will call on “every family, every member of the faithful, every religious community” to pray the rosary to “protect our families, in particular the sick and those who care for them: doctors, nurses, and volunteers, who risk their lives in this service.”
The Tablet has an online list of useful spiritual and other resources during the Covid-19 pandemic.