Nine days after his election as pope on March 22, 2013, Francis started inviting small groups of people to the chapel at his residence at the Casa Santa Marta guest house for early morning Mass. His first invited guests to Mass were the Vatican gardeners and garbage collectors. The Italian bishop’s television station soon made a request to broadcast those morning Masses each day. Pope Francis thought about the request but decided “no”. Father Federico Lombardi, the press officer at the time has written in a recent series of newspaper articles that the Pope’s reason was “because, unlike the public celebrations, he (Francis) wanted to preserve a more intimate and private character, one that was simple and spontaneous, without the celebrant and assembly feeling like the world was watching.” Summaries of those services were offered by Vatican Media afterwards and many people became accustomed to following them. But with the COVID 19 pandemic and the lockdown in Italy and other countries, Pope Francis had a change of mind. He stopped having
guests, and instead had only his secretaries, a few nuns who work at the guest house, an organist and a television cameraman attend the daily 7:00 AM Masses. The Masses were broadcasted live each day and several million people became accustomed to watching them and received comfort and consolation from them. As Italian journalist Andrea Tornielli said “the beauty and simplicity of the Pope’s off –the –cuff homilies allowed us all to enter the pages of the Gospel, as if we were present when those events took place. During the emergency that has confined us within the walls
of our homes, the importance of the Pope’ daily teaching was confirmed, and made even more decisive in these moments filled with uncertainty, suffering, anguish and many questions about the future. Father Lombardi said that the viewers united with the pope in prayer and were invited by him to make an act of ‘spiritual communion’ because they could not go forward to receive the body of the Lord. Lombardi said that during Pope Francis’ homilies, “he loves to look in the eyes of those present and dialogue with them. But with the lockdown, he would look at the camera and the
congregation heard his voice over the TV, internet and radio, but his words still reached the heart.” Although the live broadcasts of the morning Mass during the two months of quarantine was an unexpected and beautiful gift, on Monday May 18, 2020 came the final broadcast. On that day Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II on the 100th anniversary of the birth of his predecessor. It was also the beginning of a new phase with the restarting of public Masses in Italy under strict safety conditions. Preparation for reopening the Vatican basilica also began, but no opening date has yet been announced at the time of this writing.. Many people thanked Pope Francis for his live Masses and have told him that they will miss their daily appointment with him. But as Pope Francis has said, we need to return to communal familiarity with the Lord that can be found in the Sacraments, as we participate personally in the liturgy.
And he has also said that we should “visit” the pages of the Gospel every day, with the same fervor and closeness with which we have grown accustomed in the televised Masses from the Casa Santa Marta.