The lockdowns accompanying the Covid-19 epidemic have crippled the ability of churches throughout California to provide the sacraments to their parishioners. Different counties have different restrictions, none more stringent than the city and county of San Francisco. Despite the fact that retail locations are allowed to be open, on June 15 Mayor London Breed ordered that any religious service could only be held outdoors, with a maximum of 12 people in attendance. The limit was reluctantly accepted by San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who at the same time strongly urged his priests to do as much as they could under the restrictions.

Not all churches in the city of San Francisco have opted merely to offer virtual Masses; one church that has taken the archbishop’s suggestion to heart, and then some, is Star of the Sea. Star of the Sea  is celebrating 20 Masses per weekend outdoors, and this past weekend, due to the presence of a neighboring priest who hadn’t offered a public Mass in five months and was desperate to do so, the number reached 21. That is in addition to the 16 weekday Masses, for a weekly total of 37 outdoor Masses, of which 10 are Extraordinary Form and 27 Ordinary Form.

On Sundays, the parish priests Father Joseph Illo, Father Mark Taheny, Father Matthias Wambua, and Father John Chung, celebrate four simultaneous Masses at outdoor locations in the garden, patio, and parking lots at 4:30 p.m. (Saturday vigil) and at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. (Latin) and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. During the four 11:30 Latin Masses Father Michael Koponik hears confessions for two hours. This video, taken by a parishioner, shows the simultaneous celebrations.

Star of the Sea’s pastor, Father Joseph Illo, said: “Everyone seems to find the 12-person Masses more engaging, and I often say hello to everyone by name before Mass, asking the names of those I don’t know. It has the feel of the catacombs in that we are all directly committed to the scriptures and the sacrifice in a way one cannot spread out in a large church.”

This weekend also included a treat: parishioner and seminarian Cameron Pollette, who had been ordained deacon on August 8, preached his first homily at the 9:30 a.m. Sunday English Mass — after which he served as deacon for Father Illo. Archbishop Cordileone has called Star of the Sea his “vocations parish” due to the number of men who have entered the seminary, but Deacon Pollette is the first of the four to be ordained, and the first ordination from Star of the Sea in more than 30 years. Click here to see Deacon Pollete’s homily.

California Catholic Daily exclusive by Gibbons Cooney.