Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration of the Sacrament of First Holy Communion was delayed throughout parishes in the Diocese of Palm Beach. Following the diocese’s liturgical precautions in place since early March, First Holy Communion Masses at parishes such as St. Joseph Church in Stuart, St. Anastasia Church in Fort Pierce, Holy Family Church in Port St. Lucie and Holy Cross Church in Indiantown, were planned with the utmost precautions to keep with social distancing requirements.
St. Joseph Parish scheduled three First Holy Communion Masses so as to limit the number of people in the church. These were held on June 21 for CCD communicants in English, June 27 for CCD communicants in Spanish and June 28 for second grade student enrolled at the school.
Father Noel McGrath, pastor of St. Joseph Church and celebrant of the First Holy Communion Mass on June 21, expressed his thoughts on the challenges presented to the Church this year. “In the midst of all the difficulties with the coronavirus, I hope this will be a bright light in the children’s lives and a memory always to be treasured.”
Siblings Guillermo and Yessica, CCD communicants, expressed their joy in receiving Jesus for the first time. “I am very nervous, but happy,” said Guillermo. Yessica said, “I am so happy because now I can be with my family receiving Holy Communion.”
“We are blessed to have 94 communicants,” said Sr. Jadwiga Drapala, CACh, director of Faith Formation at St. Joseph Church and School. “However, we won’t have a procession this year so as to keep a safe environment. Children have to wear a mask at all times. Normally, the children receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, but this year the children will receive only one species, the Body of Christ.”
Similarly, Father Richard George, pastor of St. Anastasia Church and School, celebrated First Holy Communion Mass on the vigil of Corpus Christi, June 14. "St. Anastasia Parish was blessed with a church of young families and their children who were spiritually and physically excited to receive Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist, for the first time,” said Father George. “We were all blessed to witness the countenance of our communicants reflect a holy exchange, their souls light up and their smiles expressing the long-awaited experience of humanity and divinity united.”
Linda Schildwachter, St. Anastasia Parish’s sacramental coordinator, said that despite the pandemic, the First Holy Communion Mass remained a special event. “Each family had their own pew and the communicants wore specially designed masks that a parent graciously made. It was a blessed day...truly a day the Lord had chosen, and we rejoiced in it!
Francesca, a communicant, said, “I feel happy because I think Jesus will be proud of me.” Fellow communicant, Easton, said, “I am happy because I am receiving the Body of Christ and he is the light of the world.”
At Holy Family Church, Father Tri Pham, pastor, celebrated First Holy Communion Mass on June 7, Holy Trinity Sunday. To accommodate the large number of families, Father Pham celebrated a separate Mass for families of special needs and scheduled a second Mass for September.
Father Pham explained what it means to receive communion for the first time. “First Holy Communion is really the first time they touch Jesus and Jesus touches them. When they receive communion for the first time, the Real Presence is in them.”
Mary Acevedo, director of Religious Education at Holy Family Church, described the challenges brought on by COVID-19. ”This year, communicants and families attended an extra Mass, but it was only children whose families felt comfortable, knew they were not in a high-risk category, showed that they were not sick, were willing to wear masks, follow the diocese's liturgical precautions and accepted that they could not invite extra guests to the Mass.”
Victoria, a CCD communicant, was excited to receive Jesus for the first time. "When I received communion, I felt very nervous and excited. I'm really happy I got to do it and I felt really good after." Victoria’s brother, Sebastian, said, "I was so excited to go and eat the Body of Christ. After communion, I was really happy.”
Father Francisco Osorio, pastor of Holy Cross Church, celebrated two Sacrament of Holy Communion Masses, June 13 and June 20. Juan Carlos Lasso, director of Religious Education, prepared the CCD students for their First Holy Reconciliation and First Holy Communion with three livestream classes on Facebook.
“For their First Sacrament of Reconciliation, we had five priests hearing confessions. They followed all the protocols to keep safe with face masks, using sanitizers and social distancing,” Lasso said. “It was painful to know that we had to suspend students’ First Communion because they were so ready to receive Jesus Christ. When they finally did receive their First Communion, they were thrilled and excited to receive Jesus Christ in their hearts.”
By Aleen Stanton