Dozens participated in the Mass from their balconies and others joined via livestream April 12.
“People participated a lot, from their windows, from their terraces,” the priest said. He received many messages from appreciative parishioners afterward: “People were thankful for this initiative, because they did not feel so alone.”
Purgatorio explained that he has been livestreaming Masses and daily spiritual talks throughout the lockdown, but had the idea to offer Mass from the church terrace for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.
These significant Sundays “seemed to me, in the moment we are living, an important occasion -- when people cannot come to the church -- to still be able to live a community celebration [albeit] in this different form.”
He said he had not excluded the possibility of offering a rooftop Mass again for another Sunday in the future. Italy’s government has extended its lockdown at least through Sunday, May 3.
During quarantine, the home, Purgatorio said, has become the place of encounter, the place of prayer, and, for many, the place of work, “but it also becomes for many people the place for the celebration of the Eucharist.”
The priest said the reality of celebrating Easter without the People of God really struck him, but his parish, which is in a middle-class neighborhood, has been doing what it can to help people in need during the crisis.
“This Easter, so unique, surely helps us to transform ourselves as people,” he said, noting that though people cannot gather to receive the sacraments, they can think about how “to be Christians in a new way.”
Santa Emerenziana parish has set up a dedicated phone line for people to call to request delivery of groceries or medicine and many people have donated non-perishable food for those who need it.
“In the last few days, so many people, the majority of whom were immigrants, came to ask for help with groceries,” Purgatorio said, noting that many have lost their jobs and are struggling financially as a consequence.
The pastor said practical assistance and rooftop Masses were a small way to respond to what Pope Francis urged Catholics of the Diocese of Rome to do on the vigil of Pentecost in 2019: to listen to the cry of the city.
“I think in this moment, in this pandemic, the ‘cry’ to hear is people’s need,” he said, including “the need for the faith, for the proclamation of the Gospel, to arrive in their homes.”
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Fr. Purgatorio also said it is important that a priest is not a “showman,” but that he remembers to always be “a witness of the faith in a humble way, in order to proclaim the Gospel.”
So, when we celebrate the Mass, “we always celebrate the Lord and never ourselves,” he said.