Guillermo, left, and Yessica, right, wear masks and practicing social distancing while waiting to enter St. Joseph Church in Stuart to receive the Sacrament of First Holy Communion, June 21, 2020. (ALEEN STANTON | FC)

Parishes celebrate sacrament during COVID

PALM BEACH GARDENS  |  Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the celebration of the Sacrament of First Communion was delayed throughout parishes in the Diocese of Palm Beach. 

Following the diocese’s liturgical precautions in place since early March, these Masses at parishes such as St. Joseph in Stuart, St. Anastasia in Fort Pierce, Holy Family in Port St. Lucie and Holy Cross in Indiantown, were planned with the utmost precautions to keep with social distancing requirements.  

St. Joseph Parish scheduled three First Communion Masses so as to limit the number of people in the church. These were held for religious education communicants in English June 21, 2020, for religious education communicants in Spanish June 27, and the following day for second-grade students enrolled at the school. 

Father Noel McGrath, pastor of St. Joseph and celebrant of June 21 Mass, 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  expressed their joy in receiving Jesus for the first time.  

“I am very nervous, but happy,” Guillermo said. 

“I am so happy because now I can be with my family receiving Holy Communion,” Yessica said. 

Sister of the Most Holy Soul of Christ the Lord Jadwiga Drapala serves as director of faith formation at St. Joseph Church and School. She said they were “blessed to have 94 communicants.”

“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,” she said. “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.” 

Father Richard George, pastor of St. Anastasia Parish and School, celebrated First Communion Mass on the vigil of Corpus Christi, June 14.  

“St. Anastasia Parish was blessed with a congregation of young families and their children who were spiritually and physically excited to receive Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist, for the first time,” Father George said. “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 Communion Mass remained a special event.  

“Each family had their own pew and the communicants wore specially designed masks that a parent graciously made,” she said. “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 Communion Mass 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,” he said. “When they receive communion for the first time, the Real Presence is in them.”  

Mary Acevedo, director of religious education at Holy Family Parish, 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 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 Parish, celebrated two First Communion Masses — June 13 and June 20. Juan Carlos Lasso, director of religious education, prepared the students for their First Reconciliation and First 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.”