Pandemic Preparation for First Holy Communion… at Home!

First Communion preparation looks very different this year! However, we profess the God who was, who is, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen?

Our human circumstances may change, but God is the same from age to age. What happens to a candle when the rest of the lights go out? God is like the Christ candle or sanctuary lamp: always burning bright. So while we are adjusting our eyes to this new place of darkness, we keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the source of unending light.

Our Preparation Process

How are we adjusting to this new situation?

Here at St Joseph Calasanctius and St Andrew Bobola parishes in Northeast Ohio, our children were previously preparing for the sacraments in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) atria, which had to close unexpectedly in March 2020. As states went into lockdown around the country, the good folks at CGS USA requested that catechists not use their materials as visual aids for digital presentations.

At the same time, several parish families (including mine) asked for continued support in family prayer and sacramental preparation. In consultation with other catechists and our Pastor, we prayerfully decided to use Zoom to continue parish fellowship for several groups, including our CCD families.

As our First Communion families get close to finally celebrating this long awaited sacrament, here is a recap of our parish offerings in this time to support family preparation together at home:

Zoom CCD

Families with kids of all ages were invited to five weeks of Zoom CCD on Sunday mornings. In these 30-minute sessions, we listened to a section of the Sunday Sunday scripture, and reflected on artwork to imagine those moments.

Kids were invited to draw or color in response to the Word of God as we listened, and discuss afterwards what we saw and heard. This is similar to the parent & child “Stories and Scripture” session we previously offered once a month in person, but replacing the children’s story with the Sunday’s scriptures.

Here are blog posts and videos of some Family Reflections from this time:

Family Prayer Corner

Families were invited to join five weeks of Family Prayer Corner via Zoom on Wednesday evenings. CGS USA provided instructions to set up a prayer corner at home.

Each week, a different family volunteered to:

  • share their home prayer corner,
  • light a candle (saying, “Jesus is the Light of the World”),
  • share scriptures or prayers or songs that they selected,
  • end together in prayer for the people and situations on our hearts. We responded, “We lift them up to the Lord.”

Learning to Participate Fully in Mass: My Own Missal

How can children learn to participate in Mass when they cannot attend in person?

In this time, we are all being treated as the church would adapt for any child or family who could not attend classes and Masses in person due to illness or other personal crisis.

This is a great opportunity for us to increase our compassion for those people and families for whom isolation at home is prolonged. There are many things we have learned in this process that can help us continue this ministry in the future.

To start, we mailed home the children’s My Own Missal work they had started in the atrium, along with instructions to continue this work at home. While drawing and copying this selection from parts of the Mass, we ask that families discuss these gestures and words and what they mean.

I invite families to let me know when your Missal is complete & ready for binding. We will get them bound and return them to you once we can resume group meetings again.

All through this pandemic, fr John and all our healthy priests have faithfully celebrated the Mass daily. As an “essential business” the church has remained open for confession from mortal sin, funerals or weddings with immediate family, Eucharistic adoration, and continue charity to our parishioners and neighbors in need.

Just like the health care industry, the church temporarily stopped many important services to save more lives in the long run. Many public health experts are now confirming this quick action has saved millions of lives in the U.S. and around the world. Way to be pro-life, church!

Meanwhile, we have all been placed in danger due to the pandemic, so the obligation to receive the Eucharist has been temporarily lifted by the bishops for all the faithful. This is an extension of normal Canon law that anyone is excused from attending Mass in person who is seriously ill or could infect others (please stay home!).

However, this does not release us from the Commandment to “make holy the Sabbath day.” Just as would happen in another place or time where Priests were unavailable to celebrate Mass weekly in person, Catholics are still obligated to keep the Sabbath day for prayer and rest, family and joy.

Families have reported continuing weekly worship at home. We can pray in unity with the universal church by using a Missal, or the lectionary, or viewing Masses online to:

  • Praise God in spirit and song
  • Make an act of contrition and pray for the forgiveness of our venial sins
  • Listen to the Word of God, by reading or proclaiming the lectionary readings
  • Affirm our common faith by reciting the Creed
  • Ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance to reflect on the scriptures
  • Make an act of spiritual communion

Family Bible Study

Please use this guide for a five session Family Bible study to reflect on First Reconciliation and prepare for (or reflect on) First Holy Communion. Plan for anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes for each session, and do not plan more than one per day. We originally planned to host a group Bible study once a week for the five weeks before the sacrament of initiation.

Please plan these five Bible studies close to your scheduled 1st Communion date if at all possible, though we recognize many will have to complete it after the event.

  1. Family Bible Study Week One: The True Vine
  2. Family Bible Study Week Two: Found Coin & Found Sheep
  3. Family Bible Study Week Three: The Forgiving Father
  4. Family Bible Study Week Four: The Centurion’s Prayer
  5. Family Bible Study Week Five: The Last Supper

Reflection Retreat at Home

I will deliver materials for you to use for your child’s individual retreat at home. Set aside about three hours when you can turn off all TV, phones, and other work to give God your full attention for these hands-on activities. Please do everything possible to make this a special day to relax and enjoy!

Personal Family Devotions

The Catholic tradition is a treasure chest, full of so many beautiful devotions, you cannot possibly contain them all in one lifetime!

Families share their faith in many ways at home. Here are some devotions our parish families have shared:

Finally… the big day!

We are connecting individually with families to ask children and parents how they hope to celebrate the sacrament. We are processing a lot of uncertainty, and also grieve that things will not be as we initially planned.

However, the kids consistently shared their eagerness to join the Supper of the Lamb, and to be together. This was more important to them than any of the other extras that we adults had planned for the celebration.

Therefore, once we could resume public Masses, in consultation with the Diocese and our Pastor, we are currently scheduling First Holy Communion for up to three families at a time, preferably at a Saturday 4:30pm Mass.

What should you expect?

  • Use the front doors facing the street to enter
  • Please wear a mask and use hand sanitizer upon entering the worship space
  • 1st Communion families will be reserved a pew(s) up front
  • If the pews fill due to distancing, additional seating is available in the Hall
  • Masses are livestreamed on our parish Facebook page and recorded for friends and family members who can/should not attend in person
  • Kids will receive Holy Eucharist first (in the hands, no cup)
  • Most folks are wearing their masks until they are next in line to receive the host, removing the mask only to receive and consume. This keeps us from accidentally spitting on each other!
  • You can take photos with fr John in front of the altar afterwards
  • We ask families to continue celebrating at home afterwards, but not to linger in the church.
  • Note: Please give your child time and space to absorb and savor the experience, as it will be very deep and sweet. This is not a normal birthday party!
  • We are planning a reflection retreat and celebration with all the families together once the Diocese deems it is safe to resume group gatherings

Many blessings on this special day!

Though this year’s celebration is different than what we perhaps hoped, it is a day when all the saints are watching and rejoice! Indeed, though we cannot all be in one physical space at the same time right now, it helps us remember the truth: we are only truly united in the eternal Presence of God.

In that unity and that Truth, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God!

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