Families  celebrate the  Eucharist 

By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator  

At the noon Mass at St. George Church in Baton Rouge on Thursday, June 4, four young communicants sat quietly with their families on the front row of each of the four pew sections of the church.  

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Lucas Noel receives first Communion from Father Paul Gros, parochial vicar of St. George Church in Baton Rouge, during weekday Mass, June 4. Photo by Bonny Van | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Large bows and banners marked the pews, indicating the seats were reserved for special guests. Dressed beautifully in white dresses for the girls and khakis and dress shirts for the boys, the masks covering the faces of the children, siblings, parents and extended family members served as both a safety measure and a reminder that these are unprecedented times, even when it comes to receiving the sacraments.  

St. George pastor Father Paul Yi said as time marched on with the coronavirus quarantine, some events had to be canceled, including confirmation, which was scheduled for early May. Going too far into the summer months seemed unrealistic for the students who would begin the busiest year of their high school career with senior activities.  

In order to accommodate the 100 confirmation candidates, Father Yi said two large Masses were celebrated June 1-2 that were limited to the students, their sponsors and their parents.  

“So when we were deciding on first Communion we thought about doing it the way we did confirmation, with two parents and each child and that would be the capacity of the church,” said Father Yi. “But with first Communion, what was a lot more important was not only having the parents but also the siblings, the grandparents, godparents and so we would have a lot more extended family members.”  

Amanda Noel, whose son Lucas was receiving first Communion, said this arrangement was much more of a family affair for her family. She said besides her husband Matt and two other sons, Ethan, 13, and Hayes, 10, her parents, her husband’s parents and her brother were able to sit together and truly be a part of the event.  

“It was really special,” said Noel. “I think we were all sad that Lucas wasn’t able to celebrate it with all of his classmates. But having gone through it two other times, it can be a very stressful day trying to get everyone ready and out the door early enough to get seats. Being able to show up right before Mass and having all of our family able to sit with us in the same pew and actually see him receive his first Communion, it was just really special.”  

Molly Rose, director of Child Faith Formation at St. George, said as she tried to find the best way to proceed to accommodate the 25% capacity requirement with 111 children, she spoke with several parents and children.  

“I asked them what was most important – being with their school friends and immediate family or being able to receive the sacrament with their immediate family and extended family and the absolute consensus across the board was, ‘I want to be with my immediate family and my extended family.’ That’s what touched me the most,” said Rose.  

From May 26 through June 17, families of communicants had a choice of five weekend Masses and five weekday Masses with four communicants per Mass to allow for front row seating. Rose said the families arrive 30 minutes prior to Mass and she would go over the procedure and helps each child with how to remove the mask before receiving the Eucharist and how to put the mask back on afterwards.  

For some, the mask added another facet that had some children a little anxious. Noel said Lucas was nervous about removing the mask correctly while others took it in stride. 

“At first, it’s not what you envision, your first Eucharist wearing a mask, but it was fine, we made do,” said Jessica Williams, whose son Andrew received his first Communion.  

She was there with her husband Daniel and two other children, Tyler, 10, and Cate, 6.  

“We have not been back to Mass,” she said. “Because of the masks, my kids wouldn’t sit still. They wouldn’t be comfortable wearing it during Mass.”  

“Andrew asked (Sunday) if we were going to Mass, but I explained to him the masks and Cate so young, she’s not going to be able to sit through Mass wearing one, so we’ll just wait until that rule is lifted. So we’re just going to watch it through TV for now.”  

Mindy Calandro said her daughter Madison was excited but nervous.  

“After the Mass, she said, ‘That wasn’t anything to be nervous about, that was totally fine,’ ” said Calandro, who was there with her husband Blaze, and sons Joseph, 9, and Levi, 6.  

Calandro said Madison’s grandparents, who remain in quarantine, watched the Mass on YouTube and messaged Madison afterwards about “how proud they were of her.” 

One surprising aspect of this new procedure has been the profound effect on those organizing the Mass and the priests. Rose said she has now witnessed first Eucharist both with the grand celebration and in this smaller setting and said she is “taken aback” every time she sees the second-graders take holy Communion in the latter celebration.  

“Seeing this, where our first Eucharist candidate is able to receive the body of Christ with their family in such an intimate setting, it’s just breathtaking because it truly makes the body of Christ the center and the focus,” said Rose. “It shows how it is the source and summit of our religion and faith and it gives you goose bumps every time you get to witness it, and it’s breathtaking.”  

Father Yi agreed. He said celebrating the Masses has been “fruitful” for both him and Father Paul Gros, parochial vicar at St. George.  

“It has helped us because actually every Mass should be like a first Communion Mass, for the grownups as well as kids,” said Father Yi. “It’s a very special time when Jesus comes to us as a gift. As I’m doing more of these Masses, it has not become a routine. It’s become more of a special occasion for me to kind of pull out of myself, and from the Scripture and also from the teachings of the church, what’s now another aspect that I can highlight at this Mass.”  

Father Yi said celebrating the first Communion Masses made him realize the liturgy is truly a special gift.  

“Only being able to see (Mass) on TV or computer screens for 60 days and only being able to do spiritual communion – we really got to appreciate the physicalness, why (Jesus) wants to come to us, so that we can touch, we can taste, literally kind of chew him. That (realization) just came alive for me as we did these Masses.”  

Father Yi said the masks add a “different dimension” to both the Mass and receiving holy Communion. Firstly, he said it “keeps us from yacking along” during Mass and makes us pay attention. Secondly, he said removing the mask or “unveiling your mouth to receive” has a lot of symbolism.  

“It makes you pay attention to what’s going in your mouth,” said Father Yi. “But for some people, (because of the quarantine), it just became a heightened experience of, ‘I do miss Jesus in the Eucharist, I do want to make the step to go physically and be present to him because he’s present to me. And I missed him. I missed his presence. I long to be united to him.’ ”