Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, Archbishop Alexander Sample, Angela Westhoff-Johnson and David Renshaw confer before a live-streamed Mass at St. Mary Cathedral March 22. More than 800 people watched. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Msgr. Gerard O’Connor, Archbishop Alexander Sample, Angela Westhoff-Johnson and David Renshaw confer before a live-streamed Mass at St. Mary Cathedral March 22. More than 800 people watched. (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Words of consecration echoed off empty cathedral pews, but more than 800 people heard them March 22 as Archbishop Alexander Sample celebrated Mass on Facebook Live.

“I know you hunger for the Eucharist,” Archbishop Sample said, looking intently into the camera at St. Mary Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The online liturgy is set for each Sunday at 11 a.m. during the coronavirus crisis, which has caused bishops around the nation to suspend public Masses. Viewers can get to the Mass via the Archdiocese of Portland Facebook page or at the website, archdpdx.org.

The massive cathedral had only 10 people inside but the archbishop, acolytes, choristers and communications staff solemnly understood that many faithful yearning for the Eucharist were watching and listening.

“Spiritually, I am very close to you,” the archbishop said.

The psalm was poignant on this day: “The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” An empty cathedral and almost no traffic in Northwest Portland meant an unprecedented quiet on a Sunday morning.

The archbishop addressed what is in the back of many minds: Why does a loving God allow catastrophes? The archbishop explained that God cannot be a source of evil, but does make good emerge when bad things happen.

Looking into the camera, he suggested that God might want people to learn three things at this time — slow down, realize life is fragile and precious and pay attention to what endures.

“Perhaps one thing God is saying to us is … take stock of what really matters, what is really important in our lives,” the archbishop said.

With emotion in his voice, the archbishop urged viewers to rely on God alone and go more deeply into prayer. He encouraged a daily rosary for the intentions of those who are sick or vulnerable.

The archbishop entreated families to take time for each other, to reconnect and not simply take refuge in the internet. He asked the faithful to use digital forms of communication to reach out to people who might be lonely.

“It seemed we always had something to do, somewhere to go,” he said. “Now we don’t, and we are together. This is a time to stay connected with those people who are very alone and afraid.”

The archbishop appealed to Catholics to abide by civic orders to remain home as an act of charity, preventing the spread of the virus. He told listeners he knows they may suffer economically as well as spiritually.

He suggested that this may be a time when Catholics reaffirm their faith in the Real Presence. The archbishop explained he feels encouraged when people get upset over canceled public Masses.

“We must never take for granted so great a gift,” he said.

As the cathedral’s noon bells rang over largely empty streets, the archbishop led a prayer of spiritual communion for viewers. The devotion was designed for those unable to attend Mass.