At least 30,000 people tuned into Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP’s Palm Sunday Mass livestreamed from St Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday morning, smashing previous viewing figures, while many also displayed palms and other branches on their front door at home.
The numbers reflected the unique situation Catholics and Christians face around the nation with churches and cathedral ordered shut by the federal government.
On a normal weekend, two or three thousand normally attend Cathedral services, with that number swelling to approximately 5000-6000 for the greatest events in the Christian year, Easter and Christmas.
The Church must be present to everyone
The numbers came as good news to the Archdiocese of Sydney, which had extensively promoted the availability of the Mass as a livestreamed event in lieu of being physically present.
Meanwhile, the challenge for the Church and Catholics in the midst of a pandemic that has so far claimed 60,000 lives globally is be more present to the sick, the dying and the dead, Archbishop Fisher told Catholics in a message emphasising that God is present to everyone at this time.
“They are there alongside Christ in Holy Week and He is with them right now,” the Archbishop told viewers across greater Sydney, the state and the nation.
[The sick, the dying and the dead] are there alongside Christ in Holy Week and He is with them right now
Healthcare, essential services, civic authorities: God is present to all
Yet the Church is also challenged to be present to more than just those suffering from Coronavirus, he said.
Healthcare workers, those providing pastoral care, “the isolated and anxious, elderly and vulnerable, ‘locked down’ in their homes, some feeling alone and afraid” are all with Christ in Holy Week and He is with them, the Archbishop assured an invisible audience.
The same applied to essential service workers, civic leaders and public health authorities who are charged with keeping the economy and civic order going while leading society to safety after the virus, he said.
Christ is also present, he said, to those he described as “the ordinary folk, perhaps with livelihoods evaporating before their eyes, financially, emotionally or spiritually insecure”.
Do not be afraid
“The financially, emotionally and spiritually insecure, the ordinary and extraordinary Australians, all are there with Christ in Holy Week and He is with them now,” he said.
Archbishop Fisher paid tribute to those he described as “the great pray-ers and do-ers of our community, who keep us spiritually on course, who amidst fear and separation build hope and connection, and in response to church closures have made their homes more truly ‘domestic churches’.
These must reach out to both God and the community more than ever, he urged, noting also that “those who intercede and serve are there with Christ in Holy Week and He is with them here and now.”
God’s acts are visible in those He inspires
Archbishop Fisher rejected the notion that the coronavirus is an ‘act of God.’
“No, the acts of God right now are the acts He inspires in His faithful people and the wonders of protection and healing He grants at their intercession,” he said.
The Archdiocese’s Good Friday service commemorating Christ’s Passion at 3pm and Easter Sunday Mass at 10.30am will be nationally broadcast on Channel 7, Prime 7 in regional areas, and live-streamed on 7plus.
Catholics proudly display their faith from front yards
As well as sharing the cathedral’s Palm Sunday livestream link, Catholics showed they were undaunted at not being able to gather to celebrate it – proudly displaying palms or other green branches on front doors, balcony railings and letter boxes.
Social media lit up with people posting photos with the hastag #palmsundayunited.
Maryanne Mifsud-Pickering of St Margaret Mary’s parish in Merrylands decorated the front of her house with lights, large palm branches surrounding a crucifix and a sign reading ‘Palm Sunday’.
Her family, including her 80-year mother who leads the rosary group at the parish, wanted to help “spread the faith” during the holiest week of the Church’s calendar at a time when places of worship are closed.
“Mass at home means we go ‘all out’ to remember what really matters,” Mrs Mifsud-Pickering said.
“Last year I played Mary of Magdalene at the Passion Play at Penrose park; this year I was to be Mary the mother of God. I try to set good examples for my children. Having our churches locked has seen us in difficult times and we are trying to improvise the best way we know how.”