Denver, Colo., Mar 19, 2020 / 04:51 pm (CNA).- The Hernon family just barely makes the cut for the latest coronavirus social distancing measures, which allow only 10 people or less to gather together.
Though Mike and Alicia have 10 children, two of them are married and no longer live at home. They still have eight children under their roof, ranging in age from 7-22.
And now, as Sunday approaches and Masses across the country are canceled, the Hernon family, who run a ministry called The Messy Family Project, are thinking about how they can keep Sunday as a holy day without the liturgical celebration of the Mass.
“My first thought is that this pandemic is Lent for the world,” Mike said.
“It’s an imposed sacrifice that we didn’t choose, but like Lent, it’s stripping us away from things of this world. And it gives us an opportunity to focus on what matters, our faith and our families. Not to make light of anything, but to see…this as a way for us to become more intentional in our family life.
On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. Two days later, announcements from Catholic dioceses in the United States started trickling in. Public Masses were suspended in order to stop the spread of the disease. By March 18, every Latin Catholic diocese in the United States had suspended public Masses.
The Hernons were able to attend Mass last Sunday, so this weekend will be their first Sunday without Mass during the coronavirus pandemic.
They said the new situation should encourage Catholic parents to be the spiritual leaders of their homes.
“I think sometimes parents, we rely on (our parish) to kind of help us celebrate Sunday. We’re like, ‘Oh, go to Mass, and then we’ll come home and just whatever. It’s just another day.’ So we were relying on Father, your pastor, to do Mass. Well now that you can’t do that, parents actually have to take that responsibility,” Alicia said.
Mike especially encouraged fathers to take the lead.
He said that on Sunday, their family plans to read the Mass readings for the day, and on to pray morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. Mike said fathers could consider leading the family in a simple meditation on the Gospel or another scripture passage of the day.
“Just meditating and spending some time (in silence) as a family. And then discussing it and having a conversation, instead of a homily, but having a little bit of that type of discussion with the family. Particularly dads need to really take some leadership in the way that they lead a time of prayer on Sunday. It doesn’t have to be elaborate,” he said.
The Hernons also suggest a family examination of conscience, and a time for family members to apologize to each other if necessary.
“Everybody can modify based upon their kids, and what’s age appropriate, if they have older kids or younger kids,” Mike said. Alicia also encouraged dads to take the lead in celebrating Sunday.
“This is a great time for dads to step up and take that mantle that God has given them all along,” Alicia said.
The Hernons encouraged families to set aside the time for silence and family prayer, even if they are also planning on watching a televised Mass. They said younger children are likely to respond best to incorporating physical elements of prayer, such as candles or religious images, into their prayer time.
“Kids, but not even just kids, as people, we are so tangible. We are Catholics, we need physical things,” Alicia said.
“Make up a little altar, light candles, have a picture of Jesus, have a picture of the Blessed Mother. If you don’t have a statue or religious things, get them. Buy them on Amazon, immediately,” she said. “Include holy water in your ritual. Have everyone bless themselves.”
Alicia added that keeping Sundays holy should include not only prayer, but the way the rest of the day is lived out.
“If you look in the Catechism about how to celebrate Sunday, it doesn’t say just go to Mass. You have Mass, but then you also refrain from unnecessary work, take time to join with other families, take time to focus on each other,” she said.
Obviously, those things will look different in a world of social isolation, Mike and Alicia said, but it can include games and other forms of recreation, as well as special meals.
“You could make a maze out of your home, you could do a treasure hunt, you can get outside for goodness sake, we don’t have to stay inside,” Alicia said.
“You can still go on a hike. If there’s a lake nearby, you can go swimming, you can go to a beach, you can just get outside and do something with your family.”
The Hernons said they discussed a lot of ideas for how to spend this time of pandemic as a family on their latest podcast episode, and that they plan on coming up with a Sunday guide for prayer time that families can follow on their website.
Adam Barlett is also planning on making a guide to help families lead prayer in their homes on Sundays. Bartlett is the founder and president of Source and Summit, a new Catholic apostolate dedicated to helping parishes elevate the liturgy. He is also a husband and father to two girls, aged 13 and 9.
“Source and Summit exists to serve parishes fundamentally, but by extension to help all Catholics elevate liturgical prayer,” Bartlett told CNA. “So we found it kind of ironic that the moment we launched, parishes and diocese just started shutting down the public celebration of Mass. And so we felt kind of a obligation to respond in some way.”