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Getting past pandemic in Diocese of Wilmington: Signs of normalcy as parishes return to first Communion celebrations

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First Communion at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Lewes.

A year after the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancellation of normal first Communion Masses, parishes in the Diocese of Wilmington have begun offering the sacrament in a more familiar setting this year.

In Lewes, 22 children celebrated their first Communion on April 24 at a Mass held just for them. Father Brian Lewis, the pastor, said the parish used its large church and facilities to its advantage.

“We’re allowing seven family members to be seated with them in the pew. We’re also going to have overflow seating in the parish hall, and we’ll livestream that,” he said a few days before the event.

Nancy Maloney, the coordinator of religious education at Resurrection Parish in Pike Creek, said last year’s first communion class had its sacrament spread out over the year. There was one in August, another in October, and again in January. This year, they had five people, including one who was in last year’s class.

The sacrament was held at a Mass for the families of the children, each of whom would be allowed about 10 guests. Before the Mass, Maloney said the group was anticipating holding the sacrament together.

“It’s very exciting. The whole process is very exciting for the families and for the whole parish as well,” she said.

St. Benedict Church in Ridgely, Md.

On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, eight children were to receive first Communion at St. Benedict Parish in Ridgely on May 2. Three at St. Benedict, and the other five at its mission, St. Elizabeth in nearby Denton. Each of the churches can accommodate about 60 people with COVID restrictions in place, coordinator of religious education Maureen Duggan-Cassidy said, so family members had to reserve spots as the Masses will be open to all parishioners.

“It’s almost normal, and we’re excited because it’s been a year since we’ve been able to carry out things in a normal fashion,” Duggan-Cassidy said.

Last year, when Father Lewis was pastor of St. Benedict, first Communion was postponed for several months, but over the summer, they were held one-by-one. Duggan-Cassidy said Father Lewis held “Mass on the Grass” behind the church for each of the children.

“Last year, it was miraculous. Father Lewis was just so good. ‘These kids have prepared all year for this. We’re not going to deny them the sacrament.’ The Mass in the Grass was such a good idea,” she said.

“This year’s going to be great, too, because we’re going to be back in the church, and we’ll have a photographer.”

There was no set number of guests for each child, she added.

Classes to prepare for the sacrament were a combination of in-person and virtual at the parishes. At St. Benedict and St. Elizabeth, in-person classes were offered for both first Communion and reconciliation, although some of the students remained at home. The first communicants had a rehearsal the night before their big morning, Duggan-Cassidy said.

Maloney said the families at Resurrection seem more excited than normal this year. Attendance at preparation classes was good, even when it was held online. Father Lewis said classes at St. Jude were held virtually, and the catechists stepped up to meet the new challenge, which he called an “amazing and humbling experience.”

Despite the success of Mass in the Grass last year, Father Lewis is thrilled to have the sacrament back in a more normal setting. “I’m elated that we’re able to have everyone all at once together united as one body of Christ. It’s a beautiful visible symbol, but at the same time it’s joyful for them and their families to truly be together.”

Maloney is looking forward to things truly getting back to the way they were, with students in class, not having to worry about all of those things that have become commonplace over the last 12 months.

“We certainly are moving in that direction, that’s for sure. If things keep progressing the way they are … I think we’re really moving in the right direction to go back to the things they were before 2020,” she said.