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A behind-the-scenes look at preparing livestreams of prayers and Mass

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A behind-the-scenes look at preparing livestreams of prayers and Mass

DUBUQUE, Iowa (CNS) — Before broadcasting the rosary live on the internet from the Vianney House March 26, a few last-minute details had to be ironed out as Archbishop Michael O. Jackels of Dubuque prepared to lead the prayers.

“Do you know who’s doing the introduction?” asked the archbishop, having already attached a small microphone to his lapel.

After some momentary confusion among the small group of seminarians who had gathered in the chapel that is attached to their private residence, Tim Weber volunteered, or perhaps was drafted by his peers.

“OK,” said the young man who is in formation for the priesthood at St. Pius X Seminary at Loras College in Dubuque. “Is this something I need to be dressed for?”

Weber stepped forward in a hoodie, looking a bit informal next to the archbishop in his suit and Roman collar.

“You’re fine,” said Archbishop Jackels, with a smile.

After a few good-natured jokes from the other seminarians about his wardrobe, Weber stepped up to one of three cameras to practice the words he would be reading before everyone prayed the luminous mysteries live with hundreds of participants viewing online.

Many of the seminarians are back at the residence and have been staying inside except for exercise and other essential trips due to classes being canceled amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since public Masses and other events have been canceled in Catholic dioceses across the world, livestreaming has been much more common as the faithful search for ways to connect spiritually with the church, while maintaining social distancing guidelines recommended by public health officials.

In the Archdiocese of Dubuque, livestreams of the rosary on Thursdays and the Mass on Sundays, in English and Spanish, have drawn significant audiences. According to Jeremy Jones, an information technology administrator for the archdiocese who is part of the livestreaming “backstage crew,” the bilingual rosary averages about 600 live viewers and the Sunday Mass about 5,000 to 6,000.

Archbishop Jackels’ first livestreamed Mass after public gathering restrictions went into place had about 10,000 live viewers. Since then, many parishes have worked out how to offer their congregations live Masses at the local level.

“We’re pleasantly surprised with how many people are watching our livestreams,” Jones told The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. “There were a lot of things that were in place (before the pandemic) that are now being utilized.”

“Most of the (parishes) have done a great job using smartphones and tablets to livestream,” he added. “What I’ve seen most is Facebook Live.”

Jones coordinates with Deacon John Robbins, director of communications for the archdiocese, to produce the livestreams. The first one at the archdiocesan level occurred in 2017, when pastoral center staff livestreamed the funeral of Archbishop Daniel W. Kucera at the Cathedral of St. Raphael. Since then, practice has helped make perfect, and improvements are always being sought.

Jones, Robbins and sometimes the seminarians work with three cameras, the lapel microphone, a microphone on the ambo and two shotgun mics, which pick up ambient sound. They communicate via phone call and text and control equipment using laptops.

“During the livestreams, I’m constantly adjusting sound levels,” said Jones.

“The first week (of the Vianney House Mass), we were just using the shotgun mics. The second week, we plugged into the chapel sound system.”

Deacon Robbins and Jones work together to follow the action and change camera angles. Afterward, recordings are immediately available to be rewatched.

A reverent feeling permeated throughout the chapel like rising incense in the moments before prayer began.

“We’re just about 90 seconds out,” said Deacon Robbins to Weber as he made a gesture one might see in a network news studio. “I’ll point to you.”

After the livestream, Deacon Robbins and a few of the seminarians stuck around discussing how to use the archdiocesan Facebook page to broadcast eucharistic adoration and evening prayer from the chapel. Since then, seminarians have been doing this on a regular basis. The seminarians said they are happy to help foster “spiritual Communion” among Catholics at a difficult time.

“I think what we’re doing here is we’re trying to bring our prayer life to them, to help intercede for them,” reflected Weber after the recent livestream.

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Russo is editor of The Witness, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.


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