CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
Hand sanitizer at every door, strict limits on guest attendance, no procession of the First Communicants, households clustered and seated at a distance from one another, no large group photos — this is First Holy Communion in the post-coronavirus Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
With the latest version of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Catholic Comeback matrix allowing for the celebration of First Holy Communion after June 15 and for youth confirmation after June 28, all over southeastern Wisconsin, parishes are beginning to schedule and plan for these crucial sacraments of initiation that were postponed by the pandemic.
“We wanted to make sure that the children had the opportunity to receive the Body of Christ as soon as we safely could,” said Sabina Carter, Director of Christian Formation at Holy Family Catholic Church in Fond du Lac. At Holy Family, 150 First Communicants received the Eucharist at six Masses (four in English, two in Spanish) in late June.
In August, 125 youth confirmandi will be confirmed by Bishop Jeffrey R. Haines at two separate Masses.
It’s up to every individual parish to decide when is the right time to schedule their First Communion and youth confirmations, said Gary Pokorny, Director of the Office of Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“Their planning depends on a few things — the numbers of First Communicants, the size of their church and how returning to Mass has gone so far for the parish,” he said.
For Carter and her staff, adhering to safety standards compelled them to host the First Communions at the parish’s largest church site, where attendance was restricted to 25 percent of the building capacity. Throughout the planning process, she said, staff members worked to keep parents in the loop amidst ever-changing guidelines.
“We talked about how the parents’ attitude toward postponement would help influence the child, rather than making them feel like they were going to be missing out,” said Carter. “Because there were things that were different, and if they had an older sibling, they would notice that. They weren’t able to invite all the grandparents to come, for instance.”
The logistics of planning is even further complicated in the case of youth confirmations, said Pokorny, because parishes must either work within the schedules of Auxiliary Bishops Jeffrey R. Haines and James T. Schuerman or obtain the delegation of necessary faculties from the archdiocesan chancery for their pastor.
Confirmation scheduling has been hectic, said Nancy Kerns, administrative assistant to the auxiliary bishops. More confirmation Masses than usual are taking place because capacity at each liturgy is limited. “Some parishes are having two or three confirmations, so the bishops are going out there two or three nights,” she said. “We have had a lot of requests. Both bishops are pretty much booked from the middle of July through the fall.”
Neither mind the workload, though. “They both love doing the confirmations — it’s their favorite part of their job, so when I get a call they are thrilled to go if they can.”
As with First Communions, confirmation will look a little different than usual. Confirmandi will be anointed with a cotton ball that will be burned later, said Kerns.
But no matter the changes, for young people who have experienced unprecedented isolation from friends, school communities and from their physical church buildings, it’s an important moment of reintegration to a sense of normalcy, said Doug Ulasek, associate director of youth evangelization for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“I’ve been referring to the coronavirus as a perfect storm that’s almost designed to make Generation Z struggle, potentially,” said Ulaszek, referring to the demographic cohort born in the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2000s.
“What we know about Generation Z is that they really struggle to belong,” he said. “Their priorities in life are all financial and job-related, because a lot of our teens were children during the Great Recession and that’s impacted their worldview and what they value.”
The isolation and economic uncertainty of COVID-19 has only exacerbated that, he added — and the peace found in a relationship with Christ through the sacraments of the Church is more necessary than ever.
“The great news is that the potential solutions that we were holding out to help Gen Z encounter Jesus — they haven’t changed,” Ulaszek said. “Because it’s really Jesus, our relationship with him, that’s going to bring all of us fulfillment. The same priorities that we had before coronavirus hit, for Gen Z, they’ve intensified. But they haven’t changed. It’s still about helping them belong. It’s still about introducing them to Jesus, showing them how to give their life to him as disciples.”