ASTORIA — Fifty-one children from Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s CCD program celebrated their first Holy Communion on July 18. Two separate Masses, celebrated by Msgr. Sean G. Ogle, V.F., took place at the church in accordance with state and Diocesan safety guidelines.
“We wash our souls to be ready for Jesus in Confession, we open whatever masks keep us separate from Jesus to welcome Him in, and we are infinitely close to Jesus when we receive Holy Communion. We never want to be distant from Jesus in any way,” Msgr. Ogle said during his homily at the first Mass.
“Today, faith conquers our fear. We’re still going to be careful and do all the things we should do, but we need to have no fear or anxiety because we have Jesus with us,” Msgr. Ogle added. “And, in that way, He truly is the Bread of Life, who makes our life worth living.”
Each child sat in a separate pew with their immediate family and later individually walked up to the altar. However, the children physically turned sideways, rather than face forward, in order to receive the consecrated host — so that the families could see the moment. The ceremonies were also live-streamed for extended family and friends at home.
“We were trying to make this the most beautiful and special ceremony we could out of this pandemic,” said Nelly Gutierrez, director of religious education.
“My own philosophy about it, from the beginning, was that we should be ready to celebrate the sacraments — when permissible — at the earliest possible time, so that the children had a sense of closure with the year’s studies that they did,” Msgr. Ogle said, regarding the decision to hold the ceremonies in person during the summer. “I was always talking with Nelly and our catechists so that we would be on the same page.”
Because the children had already completed three-quarters of the year’s instruction when the coronavirus shutdown occurred in mid-March, the remainder of religious education continued remotely.
“They really stepped up to the plate and made sure the children were ready to receive the sacraments whenever the permission came through,” Msgr. Ogle said. “It makes me very proud that they were able to maintain a sense of community and continuity with the families for the last four months with this year’s religious education program — to the point that we could actually celebrate over the summer.”
Students participated in Zoom classes, received paper materials via mail, and watched animated videos through FORMED, an online platform dedicated to Catholic content, to be as prepared as possible.
“It really enriched the experience and gave us multiple arrows in our quiver for getting this program completed,” Msgr. Ogle said of FORMED.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel will also be celebrating Confirmation in two separate ceremonies on Aug. 8 with Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros.
In Gravesend, Brooklyn, 32 children from Our Lady of Grace’s religious education program will celebrate their first Communion on Sept. 26 — only half a pew of family members will be able to attend.
According to Phyllis Niwinski, director of the faith formation program, all the children were able to briefly meet one another at their Communion retreat prior to the pandemic. However, religious education lessons were taught online every week because in-person classes were no longer allowed.
“The children did not miss out academically, but unfortunately they did miss out on the social aspect of this, which is so important,” Niwinski said. “Some things you can do online, but there are certain things you can’t do online. Catholicism is a proactive, involved, living faith.”
Niwinski said she, like many other religious education directors, endured obstacles and had to quickly adapt during the pandemic.
“We went through training in learning how to go online, changed our books and curriculum, and even lost some teachers towards the beginning because they weren’t able to teach the online programs,” she continued. “We certainly went through a lot, but the children are fully prepared for their Communion.”
On Aug. 30, Our Lady of Grace will merge with Most Precious Blood and Sts. Simon and Jude to celebrate Confirmation at the Church of Sts. Simon and Jude.