SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$3 for 3 months. Save 90%.

For Metro Detroit Catholics, virus won't keep them from Christmas Mass

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Although the pandemic has shifted worship worldwide, one tradition remains as important as ever for Julie Parthum: attending Christmas Mass.

“The calm, the peace, the quiet, starting in almost darkness with just a lot of candlelight,” the Redford Township resident said. “Then you see all the flowers on the altars, the bells, the choir — all the sheer beauty of God and graces coming together, the joy of welcoming Christ’s birth.”

Ending a troubling year that has brought drive-in services and other activities adapted to help curb the spread of COVID-19, she and other Catholics across Metro Detroit still have plenty of options to find a holiday Mass and the comfort it offers.

Father Casimir Nyuki, who is a temporary administrator at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church. conducts the 12:15  p.m. daily mass. On display behind him are Christmas trees, wreaths, and lighting.

This month, the Archdiocese of Detroit launched a redesigned website, Massfinder.org, to consolidate the options for the faithful seeking in-person, livestreamed or TV-broadcast Christmas Masses.

“As Catholics, there’s something irreplaceable about being there in person,” said the Rev. Stephen Pullis, the archdiocese’s director of evangelization and missionary discipleship. “We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to invite people and encourage people who can safely come to church.

"We know it is too much for some people to come, so we do want to create options. … You can be part of this community in a digital way. We want to make sure they can connect with their parishes.”

For much of 2020, worshipers have adjusted to smaller services or tuned in to virtual ones to comply with pandemic restrictions.

June and Mike Keane of Grosse Pointe listen during the 12:15 p.m. daily Mass held at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church. Parishioners can plan either virtual or in-person gatherings for Christmas Day Mass.

Last month, as COVID-19 cases climbed in the region, Archbishop Allen Vigneron announced he was extending a general dispensation, meaning southeast Michigan’s more than 1 million followers were not obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation until Ash Wednesday in February.

The pandemic affects the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass the archbishop plans to celebrate at Detroit's Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Space inside the cathedral is limited due to capacity restrictions. The Mass will be broadcast live on the archdiocese website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. WDIV (Local 4) is slated to air the ceremony live.

Meanwhile, the faithful can tune in to masses at 9 a.m. on Christmas Day on Fox 2 and noon on WXYZ (Channel 7), the archdiocese said. 

Holiday wreaths are hung near the front altar of Old St. Mary's Catholic Church

Many viewers also are turning to massfinder.org to check the lists and times of Sunday, Holy Day and Christmas services as well as locate the nearest parishes, all following strict safety measures.

“We know Christmas is a time when lots of people come who don’t at other times of the year, so we’ve taken extra precautions,” Pullis said, adding that some parishes have instituted a reservation or ticketing system or a secondary site for overflow visitors.

Massfinder.org, which launched two years ago, also helps steer worshipers to larger, more spacious sites that can allow for greater social distancing, said Deanna Cortese, outreach director at AOD Catholic Funeral and Cemetery Services, the site's main sponsor. 

“People are looking for hope during this time," she said. "This is a way for them to just church around. They can do it in their own way, wherever they are in their journey. This allows them to explore on their own and find what’s for them.”

It has proven a blessingfor Metro Detroiters like Nick Switzer of Trenton. The 28-year-old and his wife, Madison, frequently attend Mass with their two young children, but during the pandemic, he said, “a lot of schedules have changed. It's been a very different year."

The family typically heads to St. Joseph Shrine in Detroit, but has also visited another welcoming church in the city. They plan to return to the shrine and its echoing, ornate interior since the leaders are offering Mass as late as 11 a.m. on Christmas Day.

“Being able to come to Mass and to receive our Lord and communion — it’s the closest you can get to heaven, this side of heaven," Switzer said. "And there’s nothing in the world that I would trade for it. To be able to go in person and see a beautiful high Mass ... it’s the point of life for us as Catholics.”

The custom is so special to Dawn Barrack that she rushed to RSVP to attend one of the nine Christmas Masses at National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak before the nearly 500 slots filled up.

“I’m looking forward to singing with everyone else even with masks on,” said the Huntington Woods resident. “Going to Christmas Mass, it’s the camaraderie and the friendship you have, being able to wave or make eye contact or hear the voices together.”

A similar sentiment guides Parthum, whose relatives have several generations of ties to  St. Joseph. She plans to head to its midnight Mass on Christmas Eve but has also tipped others to the AOD’s website to hunt for digital choices.

Throughout the pandemic, Parthum has preferred in-person worship to virtual and sees no reason to change when the clergy at her Victorian Gothic church have increased the opportunities.

“They’ve definitely been more than giving this time when we really need God more than ever,” she said.