Parishes take Advent activities online during the pandemic

By Michelle Martin
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

A screenshot of the virtual recording of the annual Mass in support of those with mental illness. The archdiocese’s Commission on Mental Illness will livestream its Advent prayer service on Dec. 15.

When Mary Jane Sullivan began the process of assembling her Advent wreath Nov. 29, she went step by step, showing what she was doing to the roughly 80 families that were following along.

Sullivan, director of evangelization and pastoral associate at St. Josaphat Parish, 2311 N. Southport Ave., has led a wreath-making workshop on the first Sunday of Advent for each of the 10 years she has been at the parish, starting with an explanation of the meaning of an Advent wreath and ending with a blessing and the lighting of the first candle.

This year was more or less the same, except the event was done over Zoom, with Sullivan in her home and the participants in theirs.

“I’m talking about three words,” Sullivan said. “Watching, waiting and awake. That’s what we’re supposed to be during Advent. And isn’t that like this whole year, waiting, watching whether people come too close or are wearing masks, staying aware of our surroundings? In the same way, Advent is about being aware of our actions and renewing and starting from the beginning. We are starting a new closeness to Jesus and being aware of our prayer life. It’s being awake and being ready.”

The Zoom event drew more participants than Sullivan usually got in the St. Josaphat gym, Sullivan said, whether because most families were not traveling over the Thanksgiving weekend this year or because it was easier to do at home than to bring the family at church.

Lisa Friedlander, director of special projects for the Building a New Reality phase of Renew My Church, said that many parishes are finding success in transferring the activities and events they usually hold to a virtual platform instead of trying something completely new.

“I wouldn’t go crazy and try a whole new something and move it online,” she said. “Try something that your parish has enjoyed in the past. I think they’d be surprised at how their people are really longing for those experiences.”

Deacon Tom Lambert, co-chair of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Commission on Mental Illness, said streaming events can make it easier even for people within the archdiocese. This year’s Mass for Mental Illness was livestreamed from St. Gertrude Church, 1420 W. Granville.

“Someone from Lake County or the south suburbs might not be able to drive in for that,” Lambert said. “But they can join us online.”

He is hoping that will be the case for the commission’s Advent prayer service, scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 15. The service is for people with mental illness and their loved ones. Those interested in attending can request a link by emailing Lambert at

“This is a time of stress for everybody, these holidays without being able to do in-person perhaps for Mass and or even in-person with family,” Lambert said. “For people with mental illness, this is one more anxiety. Our prayer service is aimed at gathering people in prayer and helping them celebrate the joy of Christmas.”

Not everyone benefits equally from online events, Lambert noted, especially as many nursing homes and group homes don’t have adequate Internet access. Still, he said, it is worthwhile enough for those that do that he expects many in-person events in the future will also be available online.

“I think that’s the way of the future,” he said.


  • advent
  • covid-19

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