A screenshot from Bishop Henning’s Facebook page shows his blessing of branches for Palm Sunday.


By Tina Dennelly

As the Catholic Church on Long Island entered Holy Week with all public Masses cancelled due to the pandemic, Diocese of Rockville Centre Auxiliary Bishop Richard Henning offered a reflection and a blessing of branches via his recently created Facebook and Instagram pages.

“So many of us are feeling very great anxiety, so many are suffering, worried about loved ones,” Bishop Henning said. “I realize too that it is an additional grief for all of us in these difficult days that we cannot gather in our churches. [It is] hard to imagine Holy Week without that opportunity to come together and to give honor and praise to the Lord.”

Recording on Saturday, April 4, from the grounds of the Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Centerport, Bishop Henning noted that the Gospel of Matthew for Palm Sunday speaks of “branches,” not necessarily palms, so he invited viewers to find a branch from their yard to hold up for a blessing. The blessing is available to all who view the video.

“Hang on to these branches . . . keep them in your house during this Holy Week to remind you that the Lord is there with you on your journey,” he instructed. “His grace, his love for you are powerful.”

Many parishes across the island have been livestreaming daily and weekly Masses on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or through their parish websites since the pandemic began a few weeks ago. Holy Week liturgies are no exception, and many parishes posted schedules for live events such as daily Mass, Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, Stations of the Cross, Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, Good Friday Service of the Passion of the Lord and Easter Vigil. The Chrism Mass celebrated by Bishop John Barres will be broadcast at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 8, on Catholic Faith Network (CFN).  CFN will also broadcast all Holy Week liturgies (visit www.catholicfaithnetwork.org for a complete schedule of events).

The faithful are encouraged to visit their parish’s website (a list of all parish websites in the diocese can be found at https://www.drvc.org/maps/) and social media pages for information on live-streamed events. Although churches are not open during livestream Masses, some parishes have opened their chapels to private prayer — and in some cases, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — throughout the day, requiring that parishioners maintain the required social distance as outlined by the CDC guidelines during the pandemic.

Not only is the coronavirus affecting the way parishes offer liturgies — it is also affecting pastors personally.

Father Joe Mirro, pastor of the Church of St. Anthony of Padua in East Northport recently returned to his parish after being hospitalized with COVID-19. Still recovering and with the other priests in the parish under quarantine, the parish is not able to livestream Mass. The pastor tended to his flock by offering a Palm Sunday message to parishioners on the parish’s website:

“I want to thank you for your prayers over the past two weeks. . . . Your prayers made the difference!” he wrote.

While in the hospital, he said, he tried to meditate on the sufferings of Jesus and offer his own suffering for the members of his parish. Because of Jesus’ suffering, he noted, we can all have hope that our suffering, too, will come to an end.

“I also felt that Jesus not only had suffered this way before me, but that he was suffering right now in me,” his message continued. “It helped me to get through it to think that he loved me so much that he was with me, even in this pain.”

“And so, I believe that Jesus is with you now,” he said. “He shares your fear, your confusion and your pain because he loves you so much. Jesus will get you through this. And you’ll see your loved ones again. That’s the promise of Palm Sunday. It is the promise of Holy Week. It is the promise of Easter.”