It’s been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic gripped our country. The challenges of the last year have changed so much in business and our personal lives. But we’ve also experienced great changes in the way we practice our faith.
At the Miraculous Medal Shrine, the transition to fully virtual worship last spring came naturally. We were already livestreaming weekly Masses and novenas when the pandemic began. While the shrine was closed, we moved the novena into the St. Vincent’s Seminary chapel for socially distant, masked prayer that maintained the sacred tradition of the perpetual novena while prioritizing the health and safety of our community.
By recording and presenting the Novena online, we ensured that devoted attendees could continue to find comfort and peace in the novena prayers through the shrine’s closure.
Concurrently, we also created and published small prayer videos that highlighted different parts of the shrine and explained aspects of Marian devotion. One of my favorite videos in this series examined prayers carved in marble in the sanctuary of the Miraculous Medal Shrine.
Ironically, the shrine’s closure enabled people to get a closer, more intimate look at the building than they were used to.
To me and many people who cherish the Miraculous Medal novena, steadfast devotion to Mary through the pandemic has been a saving grace. Prayer for Mary’s intercession has always been about praying to Mary and Jesus about exactly who we are and what we need. In a time of great uncertainty, the opportunity to be vulnerable in prayer is extremely powerful.
For that reason, giving people a way to share in this type of prayer virtually in a community with others seeking the same comfort has been important. We will continue to offer this virtual option so that people who live out of the area, are homebound, or otherwise cannot attend the novena on Mondays are able to share in the experience of praying for Mary’s intercession.
We are beginning to emerge slowly from the challenges of the last year, inviting the community back into the shrine with precautions in place to ensure their health and safety. Along with sanitation measures and efforts to maintain social distancing, we’ve also made some liturgical changes. Homilies are shorter and there is less music. These alterations have brought a refreshing lightness to the Mass that makes everything feel more energetic.
We’ve learned that less really is more. A weekly Monday Mass and Novena should not feel the same as Sunday Mass. People who attend are looking to fulfill different spiritual needs than those they seek to fulfill at their parishes on Sundays.
As Catholics become more comfortable returning to worship in-person in the coming months, we know that we will need to earn their attendance with services that are strong enough, thoughtful enough, and welcoming enough to encourage their return.
Looking to the year ahead, I am hopeful. I’m hopeful for a generous return to prayer in which nothing is taken for granted. Every verse of every song will be celebrated joyfully. People will relish their prayer communities and develop connections with those with whom they worship.
Despite the benefits of virtual worship, there is something remarkable about praying in a space so steeped in the prayerful tradition of the perpetual novena. I invite people who feel comfortable doing so to join us.
Whether you are a long-time visitor to the Miraculous Medal Shrine or someone who has never visited, our doors, and our hearts, are open to you.
Father Timothy Lyons, C.M., is acting superior at St. Vincent’s Seminary. The Miraculous Medal Shrine is located at 500 East Chelten Avenue in Philadelphia. Visit MiraculousMedal.org for more information about the shrine’s hours and novena schedule.
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