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    A View from the Pew

    Arise. Have faith. All will be well. 

    In the ‘60’s, Father John Hogan began television ministry and celebrated Mass each week from WLNE studio. Located in a building on County Street in those days, WLNE used a small room that became a chapel every Saturday morning. Different groups in the diocese served as the worshipping community. A rotating assembly of Knights of Columbus, Catholic Women’s Club, Girl and Boy Scouts and other groups affiliated with the Catholic Church represented the church for people in hospitals and nursing homes. My folk group rotated music ministry with Miss Margaret Sullivan. When the folk choir sang, music included music by Sebastian Temple and Ray Repp with several guitars and an enthusiastic group of young singers creating harmonies that did not exist on the printed page. We made them up. Miss Sullivan’s repertoire included more traditional hymns that represented a more conservative approach. Father Hogan always gave what he called ‘The Nugget’ homily – a very short but poignant sermon geared to a specific audience of the sick, the hospitalized, the dying and people in nursing homes. In short, anyone that couldn’t get to church to worship on Sunday tuned in to Channel 6 for an hour of TV Mass. I sometimes wondered if what I did as a pastoral musician mattered.

     I continued to serve as a pastoral musician for TV Mass for many years, along with many other musicians in the diocese. You just knew people watched because they would tell you so when they met you in the aisles of the grocery store. Encounters occurred. People shared their stories. (One woman went on so long that my ice cream melted while I listened.) But I began to understand the importance of this ministry through the narratives of their illness and confinement and their gratitude for TV Mass and for pastoral music.  I learned that what I did mattered to many, many people.

    When Msgr. Stephen Avila assumed responsibilities for TV Mass in the ‘80’s, we worked together at St. Julie Billiart in North Dartmouth, MA. I served as the parish music director and he served as the parochial vicar. Fairly early on as the director of TV Mass, Fr. Steve invited Bishop O’Malley to preside and preach at the 4:00 pm Christmas Eve Mass at St. Julie’s and broadcast the liturgy LIVE. On the air. No filters. No re-takes. Bloopers in. We hoped that the viewers who could not worship in a church because of illness would feel connected to a parish and the shepherd of the diocese. We wondered if it would matter. Well. Life’s a risk. Arise, have faith and live big.

    Christmas Eve arrived after many weeks of preparation. 1000 people gathered with an SATB choir of 65 people and a brass quartet. The camera crew ran pounds of spaghetti wires from the parking lot through the church. The gathering song blew the roof off of the ceiling in a rousing chorus of Christmas joy. Cameras rolled. We were off. The lector proceeded to the ambo to proclaim the first reading. And then the church went completely dark. On the air. Live cameras rolling and thousands of viewers watching a life blooper. ‘Ohhhhhhh’ rumbled through the assembly as deeply as a bronchial chest cough.

    Cameramen scampered to check wires. Fr. Steve flew down the sanctuary steps to the television truck parked outside. Murmurs began to ripple throughout the assembly in seconds that seemed like hours. And suddenly the light of Christmas dawn dawned on me. The panel of buttons that controlled the church lights sat directly behind the soprano section. As I looked at the one principle button that lit up the entire church, one tired soprano’s head obliviously rested on the switch. God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. I pressed the button and saved the day – and TV Mass. Arise. Have faith. All will be well.

    In the ‘70’s, Father Kevin Tripp served as the chaplain of St. Luke’s Hospital and established closed circuit television liturgies for St. Luke’s and I served as the music director of that ministry. Patients would  gather in Knowles Auditorium and converted into worship space with a rotation of music ministers from parishes. I either ministered music myself or invited other music ministers to share their gifts with the patients. If the sick could not leave their beds or rooms, they could watch close circuit television and share prayer while we celebrated. Some people opted to watch diocesan TV Mass. And some people watched the televised Mass in the morning and gathered with us in Knowles Auditorium at 4:00 pm to worship. We learned from people that what we did mattered. Fr. Kevin’s owned a Pacer. His license plate read, ‘Arise.’ Have faith. All will be well.

    The Diocese of Fall River continues its ministry of TV Mass with a rotation of presiders, musicians and servers every week for ½ hour each week from the chapel at Bishop Stang through the Office of Communications. This morning, I sat with my dad in St. Luke’s Hospital as he recuperated from a very difficult week of illness.  I learned that TV Mass ministry greatly matters. As Dad and I prayed the prayers aloud and listened to the readings and the homily, I became aware that even the hospital staff refrained from taking vitals and whispered when they entered the room to check dad’s IV line. Prayer is powerful. Prayer is a presence. And prayer bolsters, encourages and takes on new meaning when someone is sick, dying or involved in the care of someone that they love who is ill. The raising of Jairus’ daughter contained a powerful message for both my dad and me this morning. Prayer and ministry matter. Arise. Have faith. All will be well, even in the midst of sickness and potential death.

    My husband Patrick brought Eucharist to us in the hospital from our parish after he finished ministering music at the last liturgy of the morning. When my dad was moved from St. Luke’s to Sacred Heart Home for skilled care, Pat packed my dad’s belongings from his apartment in our home and hauled them to dad’s new room at Sacred Heart, including Dad’s rocking chair. This is Pat’s vacation; he is spending it caring for the sick. Friends and family came to sit with us. Nurses bid my dad a beautiful farewell from one facility and welcomed him with equal love in another. Fr. John Ozug, our previous pastor at Our Lady of Fatima and now rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral appeared in the room five minutes after Dad arrived. After a very busy first weekend in his new church, Fr. John stayed to talk with us, prayed with us and lifted our spirits. We were so grateful for his presence. It matters. More family and friends came tonight to circle the proverbial camp with love and community. My dear friend Kathy, a marvelous nurse found Dad’s television closed caption for the deaf and helped me to put him to bed at the end of an exhausting day. Love matters. Community matters. The church matters. Arise. Have faith. All will be well.

    Sometimes we wonder if what we do matters to anyone. Sometimes our brokenness makes us despair and like Jairus, we beg for God’s mercy. Arise. Have faith. All will be well. Even when the lights go out.