A majority of local Catholics choose to watch livestreamed Masses from home while they wait out the enduring coronavirus pandemic and hope of a full return to parish life, according to a recent reader survey by Catholic San Francisco.
A substantial number also said their faith lives have been enriched in isolation as they spend more time in personal and family prayer, reflection and study.
Catholic San Francisco sent out a three-question email survey to the nearly 5,000 subscribers of its email newsletter July 17. The open-ended questions asked respondents to describe their current Mass attendance, what they miss the most about their pre-pandemic faith lives and whether their faith has grown stronger (or weaker) in quarantine. Almost 400 people responded to the survey.
Local Catholics are for the most part continuing to choose Masses livestreamed by their parish either by choice out of continuing caution, or because that is their only choice.
However, “there’s a difference between watching and participating,” put one respondent. “I miss the Eucharist, the incense, the music and the people,” summed up another.
The anonymous survey sought a general, qualitative measure of local Catholic attitudes and behavior over the past five months. It was sent to Catholic San Francisco email newsletter subscribers, who reside primarily within the Archdiocese of San Francisco.
Livestream is the mainstream
Only one question — asking respondents to describe their current Mass attendance — was posed to produce a sort of statistical picture of how local Catholics are choosing to worship in the pandemic.
Almost 60% of respondents said they view livestreamed Mass from home through a personal computer, tablet or phone.
Fifty churches within the Archdiocese of San Francisco livestream their daily and Sunday Masses on their parish website or Facebook page, according to sfarch.org/livestreams.
Only 20% of respondents said they have started going back to in-person, communal Masses at a church. Another 9% said they are not celebrating the Mass in any way, but will return when it is safe to do so.
The remaining 10% or so reflected a smattering of personal or changing decisions that included attending outdoor Masses, a combination of communal and livestreamed Masses, in-person services at non-Catholic churches that have chosen to defy local health orders by remaining open, and refusal to attend Mass on political grounds.
In a July 17 letter to the faithful at the beginning of the statewide shutdown to slow the spread of the virus, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone released local Catholics from the obligation of Sunday Mass attendance while urging them to keep the day holy. In a July 30 memo, he stressed the importance of following health guidelines and urged priests to hold as many Masses as possible as conditions allow. He said he is “very concerned about the long-term effects this will have on our people’s spiritual health.”
A handful of respondents represented polar opposite reactions to the decisions of both government and church officials to the closure of houses of worship to communal gatherings.
A few respondents were sanguine about the deprivation of Mass and sacrament. “I do miss Mass in my parish, but I would rather be safe than sorry,” said one.
A few were angry. “I feel that the church has been scammed essentially and has failed to stand up for itself,” said one respondent, who described him/herself as a recent convert. “We have placed fear of COVID-19 over fear of God.”
A few respondents said the pandemic has had no effect on the stability of their faith, while a minority lamented that theirs had weakened.
“Without community, my faith is growing dimmer,” said one. “Faith is connected, for me, to the strength of individuals coming together in hope.”
An older respondent said he or she, “feels abandoned in my old age with nothing to look forward to.”
Another said it has caused a crisis of faith: “Why is God testing us this way?”