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When summer means Mass is on a boat

Many boats in the water

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V. M. Traverso - published on 07/21/23

From Italy to Tennessee, there are Catholic communities that celebrate Holy Mass on the water during the hottest summer months.

For many of us, summer means sunny trips to the beach and perhaps even a boat adventure. For believers in some lakeside communities, it means boat Mass season. 

Believers in the communities of LaFollette and Tazewell, two towns located in Eastern Tennessee, have been able to attend Mass on the waters of Norris Lake thanks to an initiative by Father Campbell, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in LaFollette and Christ the King Church in Tazewell. 

“Some years we do as many as four each year,” Father Campbell told ecatholic.org adding that most of his community lives on the water, making Mass on a boat a “natural fit.” 

Parishioners are actively involved with the Mass preparation. They help scout out a cove and anchor a houseboat that serves as the central point for the Mass. They then advertise by putting up signs at Flat Hollow Marina in Campbell County, where Father Campbell himself keeps his boat.

Norris Lake, Tennessee
Believers in the communities of LaFollette and Tazewell, two towns located in Eastern Tennessee, have been able to attend mass on the waters of Norris Lake.

As explained by one parishioner in an interview with ecatholic.org, the hardest part is having the boats all lined up. Three houseboats get tied up together to create the “sanctuary” where Mass is celebrated by the local bishop and Eucharistic ministers. A potluck dinner hosted by one of the parishioners usually follows.

Italy

In Sartirana, a town in the Province of Lecco, within Lombardy, Italy, believers celebrate their patron saints, St. Paul and St. Peter, with a Mass hosted on the Sartirana lake. Mass is usually held at sunset, when local priests get on board small sailing boats lit up by ferry lights and parishioners stand on the shore, just a few meters from the boat.

Spain

In the town of Vigo, in Northern Spain, hundreds of boats head out on the estuary of the River Vigo to celebrate the Virgin of Carmen feast day on July 16. This picturesque celebration is considered Vigo’s maritime celebration “par excellence” as the Virgin of Carmen is a patron saint of sailors. 

The sea procession that takes place on her feast day is one of the most beautiful Catholic celebrations in Spain. A statue of the Virgin is carried out from the Church of St. Francis and placed on a boat. Then, a maritime procession takes place with attendees following the statue on boats rather than on foot, as it usually happens with land procession. 

Hundreds of boats take part in this impressive demonstration of faith and engage in communal singing lead by the local head of the parish.

So from Tennessee to Southern Europe, maritime Catholics show unlimited creativity when it comes to celebrating their faith during the summer. 

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