TOWANDA – There is no masking the joy experienced by parish families – and the parishes themselves – as the sacraments of initiation are now taking place in faith communities around the Diocese of Scranton. First Holy Communions and Confirmations, traditionally held as springtime events, had to be postponed to the summer months as COVID-19 wreaked havoc with the scheduling of such momentous occasions.
“The pandemic has provided challenges,” Marie Seibert, director of religious education at Saints Peter & Paul Parish in Towanda, said after the parish celebration of First Communion and Confirmation were pushed back to mid-June and late July, respectively. As the milestone liturgies were limited to participants and close family members in order to stay within the CDC safety guidelines, Seibert said there was somewhat of a silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud.
“While we missed having a Joyful celebrations of First Communions, Confirmations & Sacraments of Initiation underway big event, the small groups meant we could focus more closely on each person receiving the sacrament, and perhaps be a little less stressed,” she remarked.
“The Masses were both peaceful and joyful.” Father Ed Michelini, pastor of Saints Peter & Paul, who conferred the sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation to his young parishioners, echoed the sentiments of his DRE and added how pleased he and all who were involved are, now that the “spiritual rites” of passage were able to be accomplished amidst the fluctuations of the pandemic.
“The (sacraments) were respectfully and reverently done by all in attendance,” he said. “God causes good to happen even in the midst of chaos.” Saints Peter & Paul parishioner Sara Nash had two children receive their First Holy Communion, noting, “My daughter wore my First Communion dress that was 30 years old.” “I love that we were able to have (First Communion) with the entire class, with precautions,” she said. “I felt it went very well. What I appreciated most was that we waited, because it’s a milestone and should be enjoyed.”
Noting the unprecedented times and the need for creative scheduling, Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Susan “Suzie” Armbruster explained the first priority was the celebration of First Eucharist for the children of Saint John Neumann Parish in Scranton’s South Side. The Saint John Neumann pastoral associate noted four separate First Holy Communion ceremonies needed to take place this summer to provide for gatherings of small groups of first communicants and their parents. But the essence of the occasions was never compromised. Sister shared, “The children were excited and ready to see their friends and family and to finally come to the Feast!” The Scranton city parish followed with the Rite of Baptism for those ranging in age from children to adults. Confirmation ceremonies originally slated for the end of May for 35 young parishioners and adults were first rescheduled for October but ultimately celebrated earlier this month. “Our philosophy was to be flexible with all of our celebrations and to make them a priority while maintaining the safety of everyone,” said Sister Suzie.
“We know that this was not easy for families, but hopefully it helps all of us to grow and recognize that it is our faith that will bring us through these times.” She added, “All of our families have been grateful, and many remarked that the simplicity made it special and recognized that the emphasis is on the sacrament.” At Blessed Sacrament Parish in Throop, First Holy Communion and Confirmation were administered a day apart by their pastor, Monsignor Michael Delaney, who felt the month of July presented the best opportunity for the celebration of the sacraments. Referring to the First Communion ceremony and the small class size that enabled the children to receive as one body, Blessed Sacrament DRE Karen Doyle stated the parish broke from tradition as students sat with their parents, with social distancing and mask requirements in place.
“When it was time for the children to come to the table of our Lord and receive the Eucharist for the very first time, their parents accompanied them,” she said. “It was beautiful to see parents assist their child in such a special way,” explaining that parents stood on either side of their First Communicant and helped with removing his or her mask to consume the Eucharist.
“The days were special days for all our families,” remarked Doyle. “We did not dwell on what we could not do or what we had to do. We were in the House of the Lord, and I know we were blessed to see the children receive their sacraments.”