Msgr. Samuel Bianco, above in the forefront, with the priests who celebrate the Daily TV Mass. For 25 years these priests have helped bring the Mass into people’s homes and via YouTube around the world. Photo courtesy National Catholic Broadasting Council

Daily TV Mass stands the test of time

  • March 8, 2023

In early March 1998, Msgr. Samuel Bianco spoke about the aspirational promise of a brand-new broadcasting initiative called the Daily TV Mass on VisionTV.

Back then, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sought a way for the Church to meaningfully connect with believers and curious non-believers through the ever-popular medium of television. The question was how? 

Michael McManus was hired to answer that question. Formerly a Catholic priest, McManus transitioned into a long, fruitful career as a broadcaster, chiefly as a producer and host with the public educational network TVOntario, now named TVO. 

Different content concepts were discussed, but ultimately the founding executive director of the National Catholic Broadcasting Council (NCBC) identified potential staying power in bringing the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist into people’s homes. 

“Welcome everyone from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, all the 10 provinces and the territories across this great country. This is a very special event for us today. It marks the beginning of the televising of the daily Mass five days a week across all of Canada. It is truly an occasion for all of us to rejoice and to celebrate.”

- Msgr. Samuel Banco

Time has proven McManus, who passed away in June 2022 at the age of 91, possessed impeccable instincts on how to craft a meaningful experience for Catholics on the small screen.  

On March 2, the 25th anniversary of the Daily TV Mass aired on the NCBC’s partner television channels (VisionTV,  JoyTv, FaithTV, YES TV and Salt + Light Media). It was also uploaded for the world to witness on YouTube. Bianco, who remains a perennial presence on the Daily TV Mass, presided over the special service from the Loretto Abbey Chapel in Toronto. 

Barb McManus, the wife of Michael for over 47 years, served as lector for this historic occasion. She worked in close collaboration with her late husband to produce over 5,000 televised Masses over 17 years before they transitioned into retirement in late 2015. 

Participating in the quarter-century celebrations stirred strong emotions within Barb. 

“I kind of found it hard when they started with Michael’s opening voiceover — which I love,” she said. “I was with my son (David) and we looked at each other, and I thought, ‘this is a little too much for me.’ But it was wonderful to be there and I think Michael was there with us.”

Dubbed by many as “the Mass for shut-ins,” these televised productions quickly struck a chord among Catholics who could no longer physically venture to their neighbourhood parish.

“We received a lot of letters right off the bat that made it clear that (the Daily TV Mass) filled a void,” said Barb. “It was very uplifting for people that had nothing else. Not even just shut-ins, but we soon had people in (Western Canada) aware of it because there were many parishes closing at the time in the late ’90s and early 2000s.”

Oftentimes faithful viewers or their relatives would phone the NCBC team to ask for prayers and intentions. The McManus’ would work to oblige these requests, sending lists of spiritual petitions to the priest presiding over that day’s service. The couple would invest in short and long phone conversations with Canadian and foreign viewers. They were interested in learning about the people who constituted the ever-growing Daily TV Mass community. 

McManus’ ability to forge relationships were evident throughout his tenure, particularly during his travels to archdioceses and dioceses across Canada to engage in conversations and pick the brains of Catholic leaders about how to ensure the Daily TV Mass remains an impactful entity.  Barb was also instrumental in fostering the NCBC community as she was the primary contact with viewers, sponsors and donors.  

Upon the McManus’ departure, the torch was passed to Deacon Mike Walsh. Walsh first became aware of the Daily TV Mass “about 15 years ago” when Barb inquired if he might be interested in contributing to the National Catholic Mission series hosted by the NCBC each Holy Week. Walsh began immersing himself into the world of the Daily TV Mass and quickly gained an appreciation. 

“I think (the McManus’) attention to the quality of the way in which the Mass is presented — in other words it wasn’t just a robot camera at the back like we have now with many live streams — showed they took great care that people at home could follow along,” said Walsh. “The celebrants they selected were good homilists who could keep people’s attention. 

“Michael said to me when I first met him that his philosophy was to always keep the person at the other end of that lens as the primary focus of what we’re doing, realizing that this is their connection to their faith. This level of care is really obvious when you watch it.” 

Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins has enjoyed a tight-knit relationship with the Daily TV Mass through the years. He has served as celebrant from time to time, including multiple occasions during the pandemic lockdowns. He toasted the Daily TV Mass’ 25-year legacy.

“For 25 years, the Daily TV Mass has provided a unique and necessary ministry to those who are home bound and unable to join in person at their local parish,” said in a statement to The Catholic Register. “I am most grateful to all those who have supported and produced these Eucharistic celebrations thoughtfully and carefully over the years, especially during the period of global pandemic. We must continue to be mindful and attentive to those who are alone and isolated.”

The pandemic proved to be one of the most defining chapters in the Daily TV Mass’ history when it struck in March 2020. Governments responded to the spectre of COVID-19 by shutting down access to all public spaces deemed “non-essential,” which included places of worship. Canadians were asked to stay within the confines of their home as much as possible. 

No Canadian diocese was in position to impeccably respond to this unimaginable new landscape. During the weekends of March 14-15 and March 21-22, few parishes were ready to air a live-streamed Mass. The Daily TV Mass was discovered by many Canadians and members of the global Catholic community on YouTube, and it proved to be a much-needed godsend. 

“When we started the Mass we never thought of something like COVID-19 (occurring) and that it would affect the whole world,” said Barb. “The Mass ended up bringing comfort to a lot of people. Mike and I would have also never thought this Mass for shut-ins would become the Mass for shut-ins from around the world.”

‘I was glad we were there’ for the pandemic

Statistics illustrate how people migrated to the Daily TV Mass dramatically in the pandemic’s infancy. A weekday Mass before March 2020 on average yielded an audience between 35,000 to 45,000 with the Sunday Mass reaching 45,000 to 60,000 viewers. 

March 15, the first Sunday in the pandemic timeline, brought an audience of 206,000. March 22, the figure skyrocketed to 376,000. On April 5, Bianco celebrated a Palm Sunday Mass that registered a record-setting online audience of 495,000 viewers.  

“I was just glad we were there,” said Walsh. 

Ultimately, parishes across Canada did adapt to the terrain by launching a web-streaming presence and viewership for weekday Masses has scaled back to 80,000 to 100,000 viewers for weekdays, 150,000 to 200,000 people on Sundays. 

Eric de Souza is among Canadian Catholics who entered into a deeper communion with the Daily TV Mass starting in March 2020. De Souza would watch occasionally beforehand as he would be part of groups that would sponsor some of the programs. It was never a necessity as he and his wife Edith had five churches near their Etobicoke home. 

“The Daily TV Mass was there for us when the churches were closed all those months,” said de Souza. “Everyone does such a wonderful job. The priests volunteer their time and you can tell they put a lot of work into their homilies as they are well-researched and they are very, very informative. You learn a lot from all of them.”

De Souza expressed his gratitude for the Daily TV Mass by establishing a family legacy fund which has sponsored well over a dozen Masses, with more in the year ahead. 

“This is a special way to remember and commemorate birthdays and wedding anniversaries of the members of our family,” he said.

Walsh said the growth of people sponsoring Masses has been a great development in recent years. There are people from England, California, Vancouver and beyond ready to schedule Masses well into 2024. 

The short-term future looks bright, and Walsh and his team are at work to ensure the mission of the Daily TV Mass envisioned by the McManus’ remains vital as ever moving forward. 

“We want to ensure we continue in investing in all the latest technology. We continually engage some younger priests to show people there are young men who are filled with vitality and energy, and that is important for us to continue to do.”

Ultimately, “the next 25 years are like the last 25 years — realizing that the Daily TV Mass community is a community of prayer, said Walsh. 

“We try to create many opportunities for all of us to pray together.”

TV Mass found a home at historic Toronto school

The home of the Daily TV Mass since 2015 has been the Loretto Abbey Chapel at the Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School in Toronto. 

Beforehand, the production was filmed at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica and then St. Basil’s Catholic Church — both active parishes in Toronto. 

Deacon Mike Walsh, the president and executive director of the National Catholic Broadcasting Council (NCBC), told The Catholic Register that while this setup “worked for many years there were challenges and, in both cases, major renovations meant we needed to find a new home.”

Lily Adams, the principal of Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School, said the historic nature of the school building and chapel makes for a very appealing backdrop for Daily TV Mass broadcasts. 

“The Loretto Sisters have a long history in Toronto and Canada. The school itself is a heritage building and it was built in 1928, so it has a lot of history,” said Adams. “We are so fortunate because while so many schools don’t even have the luxury of a church nearby within walking distance, we have a chapel within our school building.”

The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Loretto Sisters, first arrived in Toronto in 1847. Over 80 years later, the current building at 101 Mason Blvd. was built in the Tudor Gothic style and blessed on May 22, 1928. The abbey was added to the school in 1953.

The typical production schedule for the Daily TV Mass is filming sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. Each Mass is filmed weeks before its intended air date. For example, the special 25th Anniversary Mass for March 2 was recorded in late January. 

“Being back at the abbey is wonderful,” said Daily TV Mass co-founder Barb McManus of the 25th anniversary Mass. “It always looks so beautiful.”

Walsh wrote in an email that “many people who watch (the Daily TV Mass) love the chapel, a number are alumni of a Loretto school or for that matter a Catholic high school and it means a lot to them that our Mass comes from this sacred place.”

Adams said the partnership has reaped great benefits for the school community. 

“Mike Walsh makes sure we have everything we need when we have our school Masses. It is a really great partnership. One of the great things is they are able to recommend a priest who can connect with our students very well,” she said.

Walsh added that the school has used the Daily TV Mass book The Mass: The Mystery at the Centre of Salvation as a resource to illuminate students why Catholics gather in liturgical celebration each week.

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.