A COVID-Time First Communion

by Martin McDonald

My cup during this time of COVID-19 is half full, not half empty. God has manifested his providence in ways that we may not have been able to appreciate under “normal” circumstances.

In January 2020, my wife and I registered our eldest daughters, Janie and Jacinta, for First Confession and First Holy Communion.

The First Communion was scheduled for Sunday April 26th, at which point Janie would have been almost eight years old and Jacinta six years and nine months. We considered having Jacinta wait another year, but her “age of reason” was already blossoming. So we decided to make it a double date with Jesus.

They made their First Confessions along with the other children in the group, shortly before the lockdown in March. That, in itself, was providential because although they had to wait indefinitely to receive the Eucharist, they (and the other children) did not have to carry the fear which naturally accompanies First Confession, into the lockdown period.

Two very nervous little girls came out of the confessional glowing, partly from relief but more from the fact that they had just had a personal encounter with Jesus. As Jacinta explained: “It’s as if when I stepped into the confessional, Jesus stepped inside of me.”

The group followed the “Blessed” program, produced by Dynamic Catholic, for both sacraments. It offers attractive books and animated videos online that captivates children’s attention while giving them a thorough catechesis.

Parents were encouraged, as primary educators, to have an active role in their child’s preparation and the Blessed program was the perfect tool for this, especially during the lockdown when we were solely responsible for preparing them for First Communion.

Graces overflowed to our youngest, Jemma, who watched and enjoyed all 84 videos with us and who thus has already begun preparing for these sacraments three years in advance. Indeed, we did a mock Confession at home, and Jemma insisted on taking part.

Having watched her elder sisters attentively, she knelt down beside me (the acting priest) with little hands folded and beaming from ear to ear and put in a flawless performance. Then in her little three-year-old voice, she began the Act of Contrition saying, “O my God, because I am so good …”

When the lockdown began to lift and as Churches reopened, it became clear that the First Communion would not be done as a group but on an individual basis.

So we booked our girls in for Saturday August 22nd, the Queenship of Mary, at the 5pm Vigil Mass of Sunday. Jacinta had just turned seven. But, without realizing it when we were choosing the date and time, God would soon reveal his hand in this, in unexpected ways.

First, during the lockdown our parish priest live streamed daily Mass online; the 5pm vigil Mass of Sunday is one of only two Masses that are still streamed.

We live in Canada, but I am from Wales and both Janie and Jacinta’s godmothers live there. They and my parents were able to tune in live to their beloved goddaughters’ and grandchildren’s first date with Jesus. But we hadn’t factored this in when choosing the 5pm Mass.

Due to the positioning of the camera, my family were unable to see the girls. However, they were able to hear the priest refer to them three times during the Mass, to watch him approach the altar rail where the girls were kneeling, and my parents heard loud and clear both girls say “Amen!” as they received the Eucharist for the very first time.

This would not have been possible under normal circumstances. A distance of three and a half thousand miles was overcome amidst social distancing!

The most powerful wave of providence hit me when the moment to receive Holy Communion came. Our parish priest honored the two first communicants by inviting them to come forward before the congregation.

In fear and trembling, they left the pew and their Mummy and Daddy and approached the altar rail, wearing beautiful white dresses with crowns of flowers on their heads.

They knelt down together, just the two of them, before the throne of God and in front of over a hundred people, most of whom were strangers to them. No photograph could ever do justice to seeing my two little princesses kneeling side by side, waiting to receive the King of kings.

It was at this point that I realized it wasn’t our idea to register both girls back in January: it was Jesus’. He knew what was in store, we didn’t. Because of the COVID lockdown, the First Communion was not done in a group as it normally would be, which meant that if we had only registered Janie, she would have had the daunting task of approaching the altar rail by herself.

Every child is unique and knowing Janie’s beautiful temperament, this may have been overwhelming for her. But Jesus is the perfect Gentlemen and he saw to it that his date had a companion. They were little guardian angels for each other. I hope this experience will remain with them and that they will always be a support for each other in their incredible journeys with Jesus.

On the morning of the First Communion day, we did a practice run at home—and I’m so glad we did!

All three girls knelt down before a makeshift altar rail and holding a vitamin C tablet I said, “The Body of Christ”, then placed it on their little tongues. Janie responded with “Amen!”.

Jacinta absentmindedly said, “Thank you!” In the car on our way to Mass, she kept reminding herself to say “Amen!” when the sacred moment came. This brought us a lot of laughter on a day filled with anticipation and fear of the unknown.

And I have since thought how fitting it was that she said “thank you” because the word Eucharist is derived from the Greek word eucharistia which literally means “thanksgiving.”

Another hug from providence came through the Madonna House community at St Mary’s. They are like family to us and if it weren’t for COVID, we would have given them an open invitation to join us for the Mass and celebrations. Knowing that they would still be with us in spirit and that they would be dining moments after the girls had just received Jesus, we gave them some treats to celebrate with.

We returned home from Mass to find an email from the director at St Mary’s with an audio recording, made whilst they were devouring the treats, in which they wished the girls a blessed celebration and sang a beautiful hymn to the Blessed Sacrament.

We really felt their presence in our home amidst our modest celebrations. Social distancing took nothing away from the occasion because we had connected on a deeper level.

All of these experiences of the Father’s tender loving care for us have come at a point in my life when God’s plan seems remote or nonexistent. They have also given me a renewed appreciation for the Communion of Saints.

We cannot physically touch or see the saints and our loved ones who have died, but as Catholics we believe that they are very much alive. We have two miscarried children, Jaden and Jessica, and despite the physical distance between them and us, we have always tried to include them in our family life wherever possible.

If we could live stream from their heavenly home, I think we would find that they also include us in their life, more than we know.

The McDonalds are neighbours and friends of Madonna House St. Mary’s.