A UK Catholic diocese has launched what is believed to be the UK’s first-ever Mass available to listen to directly by phone.
The new service has been provided specifically by the Middlesbrough diocese for Catholics without internet access, following on from the success of online services, introduced after the suspension of public mass earlier this year.
Lockdown has seen a proportion of UK residents turn to prayer; a survey of more than 2,000 people has revealed that a quarter of UK adults have listened to or watched a religious service since the lockdown began. This figure included more younger people (18–34) than those aged over 55, and twenty per cent of those who said they have done so had never attended Church before.
This trend has been reflected in the popularity of live-streamed Mass, with some churches registering online congregations far outstripping those physically present in more normal times. In Middlesborough, thousands of people have been tuning in to online Masses broadcast from St Mary’s Cathedral, the mother church of the Diocese, and from parishes across the region. One parish, St Thérèse of Lisieux, in Ingleby Barwick saw 4,700 views of one of their Easter services.
Despite this success, however, clergy and lay Catholics have raised concerns about parishioners without internet access who are unable to view online services. After a local member of the Knights of Columba proposed setting up a “dial-a-mass” service, a phone number was set up, and Father Albert Schembri, of St Mary’s Cathedral, celebrated the first recorded Mass. 100 people called the service on the day it was launched, Sunday 3 May.
Canon Derek Turnham, head of diocesan communications said he was “delighted” by the new system, which expands upon the digital outreach by parishes already taking place over email and social media networks.
Middlesborough diocese is also planning to run a “virtual” Lourdes pilgrimage after cancelling its annual visit to the French shrine at the end of May. The “virtual” pilgrimage will involve services on Facebook as well as special prayers and reflections. The Lourdes shrine closed earlier this year, on 17 March, for the first time since it opened in 1861, in compliance with French government lockdown regulations.