Inside Epiphany Cathedral in Venice during the final Mass on March 19, 2020, before the suspension of church activities went into effect across the Diocese on March 20, 2020. (PHOTO by BOB REDDY)

Solemnity of St. Joseph — last public Masses

Venice  |  The Solemnity of St. Joseph is a celebration of the foster father of Jesus Christ, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and patriarch of the universal Church. He is also guardian and protector of the Church and her Faithful.

The 2020 feast day (March 19) had a double meaning — a day to celebrate and honor a saint as well as the last day for public Masses in the Diocese of Venice until at least through Easter.

“It is shocking and sad,” said Miriam Bonner after the 8 a.m. Mass at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice. “I gain such comfort from the Mass and am unsure how I will cope without it in the coming days when I will need it most.”

Those sentiments were echoed at parishes throughout the Diocese as the news spread that Bishop Frank J. Dewane has announced the suspension of all public Masses through at least Easter. 

Cathedral Rector Father Jack Costello celebrated the 8 a.m. Mass. He made the announcement about the suspension of Masses and in response there were audible gasps from some who had not previously heard the news.

Mindful of social distancing expectations, the several hundred faithful who were present, were well spread apart and mindful of not getting too close to others.

Father Costello opened the Mass by first praying for the victims of the pandemic, particularly those in Italy, where St. Joseph is revered, saying: “Let us all keep safe and let us pray for one another and be comforted in the knowledge that God is overshadowing all of us with his grace and blessing during this difficult time.”

Following the Mass, some cried and others stayed to pray in the Cathedral for a few more minutes. Father Costello did announce that Mass would be available online through the Parish website and on TV on Sundays thanks to the Diocese. Bonner was comforted by this news. “That will lessen the heartache I feel right now.”

March 19 marked the beginning of a “Year of St. Joseph,” declared by Bishop Dewane and lasting through March 19, 2021. The Bishop celebrated a Mass that was later posted to the Diocesan website.

“Particularly in this time of uncertainty in light of the coronavirus pandemic, it is appropriate to seek the intercession of the saints for guidance and protection,” Bishop Dewane said in his announcing the special year. “I declare that the next year be a ‘Year of St. Joseph’ as we join in heartfelt prayer and devotion, encouraging all to take his life as our model for fulfilling our personal call to holiness.”

One of the last churches to suspend its activities was Ave Maria Parish in Ave Maria. As was previously scheduled, there was Eucharistic Adoration and the opportunity for the Sacrament of Reconciliation until midnight in the Church the Solemnity.