Fifteen minutes before a recent taping of the "Mass for Shut-ins" television program, Serra Club of Omaha members moved quickly about the WOWT studio in Omaha, each with a specific job.
One of the lectors, Judy Tamisiea, placed the linens on the altar. Another lector, Tom Haller, asked retired Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, the celebrant that night, how to pronounce a name in his assigned reading. And Tamisiea's husband, Paul Tamisiea, serving as the commentator, or host, reviewed his script.
But as Dan Warnke, producer and director for WOWT, counted down to the beginning of taping, the hustle and bustle was replaced with a peaceful silence.
"It's a neat thing that always happens right before Mass," said Kevin Cooper, program coordinator for the Serrans. "We let the spirit of the event come upon us."
And as the ministry marks its 50th anniversary this year with a special one-hour Mass Nov. 2, it is a spirit that reflects the theme for this year's Respect Life Program from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Each of Us Is a Masterpiece of God's Creation."
By providing the Mass to the homebound, those in hospitals, assisted living centers and nursing homes, the program highlights the respect and care all people deserve, Cooper said.
"They count on the program being there every Sunday at 10:30 a.m.," he said.
Omaha Archbishop George Lucas, among those clergy who regularly celebrate the Mass, said the program is a powerful way to help those unable to attend Mass remain a part of the community of faith.
"Everywhere I go, I hear from Catholics who know a neighbor or family member who looks forward to the broadcast each Sunday," Lucas told the Catholic Voice, the archdiocesan newspaper.
The WOWT broadcast can be viewed across the Omaha area. Masses for the homebound are broadcast in other dioceses and archdioceses around the country, though most have not been on the air as long as the Omaha broadcast. Over the years, local TV stations have been airing such Masses with decreasing frequency.
In the Omaha archdiocese, the idea for the program more than 50 years ago came from Howard Stalnaker, then-general manager at WOWT, who helped start a televised Mass at a station in Phoenix.
As founding chaplain of the Serra Club of Omaha, Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Sheehan suggested the group be responsible for staffing the show. Archbishop Gerald Bergan agreed, and the first program was celebrated Feb. 23, 1964, with Sheehan, who later was appointed archbishop, as the celebrant.
With his enthusiastic backing, the effort was immediately embraced by Serrans and the public, said Emmett Root, a former Serra president who volunteered as a server and lector for the program's first 30 years.
Root said he wanted to get involved because he knew elderly members of his parish, St. Margaret Mary in Omaha, who could no longer attend Mass.
And sponsoring the program helped further the Serran mission of promoting vocations by spreading the word about the organization. And the thank-you letters the club received from across the region -- often accompanied by donations for the program -- made it clear the effort was appreciated, he said.
"It was truly heartwarming," Root said.
With each three-member team of Serrans assigned to serve one month a year, a camaraderie developed among the two lectors and commentators, Root said. His group often went to dinner with Sheehan after a taping, he said.
That camaraderie continues today, including teamwork that results in the entire production taking place in about an hour.
The materials needed for Mass, including the three chairs, two podiums, wine, hosts, candles and missalettes are stored at WOWT.
Coordinated by Peg Lacy, director of music ministry at St. Margaret Mary, the music is recorded in advance at WOWT with musicians from parishes across Omaha. Seminarians attending the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha also have recorded music for the program, Cooper said.
The Mass itself lasts 28 minutes, 25 seconds. If it runs long, the prayer for vocations is eliminated. If there is a need to fill time, more of the taped music or a prerecorded message from Lucas can be played.
During the taping Will Wortman, a WOWT technical media director, keeps the celebrant aware of the time, holding up a sign at the halfway point, and the five- and three-minute marks.
Estimated to reach between 5,000 and 10,000 viewers each week, the program remains important in bringing the Mass to those unable to attend in person, said Curtiss, a regular celebrant since being installed as archbishop in 1993. And he said he hears from many non-Catholics who watch.
"It's been a blessing, no doubt about it," he said.
[David Gouger is senior writer at the Catholic Voice, newspaper of the Omaha archdiocese.]