ROME – With both Italian government and ecclesial authorities tightening the restrictions of Italy’s lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Catholics living in the Eternal City have said they won’t just sit on the couch, but are actively following Masses online and finding other ways to pray with their extra time.

A Catholic lawyer living in Rome named Pietro, who preferred to use just his first name, told Crux that he doesn’t have a strong opinion about the recent flip-flop on closing churches, “but I am convinced that if one wants to pray they can also do it at home reading the Gospel or saying the rosary.”

“The community aspect is missing, but it can be found at home, in the family where it is often missing,” he said. While not having Mass is difficult, “if we have to make sacrifices, they are made,” he said.

On March 8 the Italian bishops issued a decree suspending all public Masses until April 3, just before Holy Week. The decision was made in step with a series of preventative measures taken by the Italian government, including the closing of all schools, universities, museums, theaters and all stores apart from newsstands, tobacco shops, grocery stores and pharmacies.

The Vatican itself has canceled all papal audiences until April 3, including the pope’s Sunday Angelus address and his weekly general audience, which are now being livestreamed. His daily Masses in the Vatican’s Domus Sanctae Marthae guesthouse are now also being livestreamed for the first time.

Just four days after the suspension of Masses, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, the Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, on March 12 announced the closure of all churches in the city until April 3, even for private prayer.

The next day, Pope Francis warned in his Friday morning Mass that “drastic measures aren’t always good,” and prayed that pastors would find ways not to leave the People of God alone.

On Friday Papal Almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski made an act of public defiance to De Donatis’s order, opening his titular church, Santa Maria Immacolata in Rome’s Esquiline neighborhood for prayer and adoration, insisting the move was made because “home should always be open to its children.”

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Shortly after the pope’s Friday morning Mass, De Donatis published another statement walking his decision to close all churches back, saying the abrupt about-face was the result of a meeting with Pope Francis Friday morning.

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Crux spoke to several Catholics living in Rome about their opinion on the restrictions on churches, and their Sunday plans given that attending Mass in person is currently not an option. Most seemed open, if not favorable, to the measures and were actively seeking ways for virtual participation.

Barbara Corsano, a doctor in Specialized Training in Legal Medicine who also has a doctorate in bioethics, said that as both a doctor and a Catholic, “I am in favor of the closing of churches, above all to protect the health of the most vulnerable and elderly, who are those most at risk.”

On the medical side, she said she is also in favor of limiting exposure because the COVID-19 coronavirus “is still not that well known,” as a disease, including the rate of contagiousness.

When it comes to the spiritual aspect, Corsano said having the ability to watch Mass on TV every day “is a precious occasion to continue being Church together and to nourish one’s own faith.”

“I see this momentary deprivation also as a precious opportunity to experience Lent differently, which perhaps allows us to touch with our own hand that desert of 40 days that Jesus lived,” she said, noting that her parish community every morning sends out a reflection on the day’s scripture readings.

With rosaries being recited and Masses livestreamed everywhere, not just by the pope, “the closing of the churches does not mean the closing of the faith or of being Church,” Corsano said. Rather, “it’s just a different way to discover the Church and take care of the most vulnerable.”

Ann Haring, an American living in Rome with her husband and two daughters, said their plans for the next three weeks are to “continue with our family prayer and ‘go’ to Sunday Mass via St Patrick’s,” referring to the Chiesa di San Patrizio a Villa Ludovisi parish, which is the national Church for Americans in Rome.

In an email blast sent to parishioners, St. Patrick’s said that in light of the suspension of Mass, they would be uploading short, daily Masses to Facebook every day, and are working with their musicians to include singing for Sunday Mass.

“The goal here is to stay connected to all of you: whom we miss very much,” the note said, urging parishioners to “Stay strong, courageous and healthy. We are lighting candles for all of you.”

Many others, both Italians and expats alike, are planning to do the same – watch Mass online and make an act of so-called “spiritual communion.”

Mountain Butorac, who is based in Rome and runs The Catholic Traveler tour company, said he is happy that churches have been opened again for prayer, and that while is still “devastated” that Masses are unavailable, “we can still participate in various other ways.”

“The Holy Father is now live-streaming his Mass. For the first time in history, anyone can join, albeit virtually, daily Mass with the Holy Father. Other churches are doing the same,” he said, noting that many parishes he knows have begun streaming their Masses for parishioners to watch, including parishes that celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.

“It doesn’t replace being there in person,” he said, “but it still gives us the chance to participate.”

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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