Jesus Is Longing for This Day

As churches across the country resume public Masses, those eagerly awaiting the sacraments of first Communion and confirmation reflect on the unexpected blessings of their delay and their upcoming big day.

Fletcher Abner with his first Communion rosary. The rosary he is holding was made by his grandmother, Shirley Jones. She has made more than 20 for her grandchildren on their first Communion.
Fletcher Abner with his first Communion rosary. The rosary he is holding was made by his grandmother, Shirley Jones. She has made more than 20 for her grandchildren on their first Communion. (photo: Family courtesy photos)

Children and teens whose sacraments of first Communion and confirmation were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic are looking forward to finally celebrating those milestone, grace-filled moments.

Communion is reception of the consecrated bread and wine, which have become the Body and Blood of Christ. Confirmation confers and seals the fullness of the Holy Spirit one received in baptism. Along with baptism, they comprise the sacraments of initiation.

Those whose sacraments were delayed have been waiting. Providentially, the wait, while disappointing, has been a time of grace, their families say.


The Hoang Family

All five children of couple Tracy and Keith Hoang, parishioners of St. Lawrence Martyr in Redondo Beach, California, were set to make their sacraments of reconciliation, confirmation and Communion at this year’s Easter vigil (April 11).

At their parish, the Hoang children had attended the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a formation program for prospective converts and for Catholics who have been baptized but not catechized. Unfortunately, as with other U.S. parishes, the novel coronavirus hit and suspended Masses in the Los Angeles Archdiocese just before Easter.

“They were all baptized,” Tracy Hoang told the Register about the couple’s four girls and one boy who range in age from 9 to 14. “We wanted them to make their remaining sacraments all together.”

The RCIA program was a better fit for the Hoang children rather than traditional religious-education classes due to their ages, said Caterina Krai, the parish’s RCIA director.

“And the ideal way to catechize is to catechize the family,” she said. “The RCIA program is a family program. Being catechized as a family is more powerful.”

The Hoang children were nearly through the two-year RCIA formation process when the pandemic brought everything to a grinding halt.

“We only had a few weeks till Easter and their sacraments,” Tracy Hoang recalled. “It was so close!”

As elsewhere throughout the country, the students’ catechetical instruction continued via online video conferencing to allow for face-to-face interaction with their instructor and fellow classmates. Homework assignments and completed work were emailed back and forth.

One lesson asked the students to reflect on how COVID-19 had affected their lives, both the challenges and the blessings.

“Catholic Christians know that through the heartaches and sufferings there’s always good that comes,” Tracy said. “Even though things can be hard, there’s light in the darkness.”

“Everything is timing,” she added. “There is a Christian band, For King & Country, that was making a video for a song called Together. The video was on the same theme as the kids’ [catechism] lesson — people were invited to submit videos in which they held signs that said what they are sad and what they are happy about with COVID-19.”

The family submitted a video clip to be considered for use in the Grammy-winning duos’ video.

“On our signs we said we were sad because the kids couldn’t receive their sacraments at Easter and they have to wait, but that we’re happy to have more time to pray together as a family and to have more ‘God moments,’” Tracy said. “We got selected! We’re singing in the chorus at the end of the video.

“It was pretty exciting. We were thrilled that we got to apply a [catechism] lesson to real life. You never know what God’s plan is.”

For King & Country’s Together video launched in May.

Krai was delighted for the family.

“I thought it was great they were involved with the video because it lifted their spirits during this time,” she said. “They were so excited — and it complemented the lesson we had done. It was something God had provided.”

Ashley Hoang, 14, said the delay to her and her siblings’ sacraments has taught her patience and gratitude.

“I’ve realized I didn’t really appreciate all the things I have,” she said. “I appreciate my family more and having human interaction. I will really appreciate actually getting to make my sacraments. It will be more memorable.”


The Herrera Family

In the Denver Archdiocese, the sacraments of confirmation and first Communion are conferred on children in the third grade. Justin and Roxann Herrera’s eldest child Brooklyn, 9, prepared all school year to make her confirmation and first Communion at Light of the World Church in Littleton, Colorado, shortly after Easter. Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the family just learned the sacraments will be offered at the end of June.

“I’m excited to make my sacraments!” gushed Brooklyn, who just completed third grade.

Brooklyn Herrera dons her first Communion dress.

Dad Justin Herrera, who works part time at the parish as the audio-visual manager, said the family — which includes a 5-year-old son — took the delay in stride.

“It wasn’t a tragedy, but it was disappointing,” he said. “Brooklyn was looking forward to it and had picked out her saint, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. She had just finished her report on her saint and had presented it to her class before [classes and Masses] got canceled.”

Light of the World pastor, Father Matthew Book, said people were understanding about the delay.

“Spiritually we’re encouraging people to realize God is with us and is leading us through this desert,” he said. “What graces we thought we’d receive immediately have been delayed but God is giving us other graces now — perhaps even a deeper desire for these sacraments. For adults, it may be a reawakening of an appreciation for the Eucharist.

“The Lord is still with us, and his grace is at work during this patient waiting.”

Justin Herrera agreed, noting he was grateful the bulk of the catecheses had already been given and appreciated the email, phone and online video and conferencing support the parish offered to families to help them keep their students encouraged and prepared for their big day.

“I feel the church supported them very well,” he said. “I told Brooklyn she’ll have a great story to tell — not only were her sacraments delayed because of COVID-19, but she’s part of the ‘restored order’ to get them in third grade.”

Five years ago, the Denver Archdiocese began a process of restoring the order in which a person receives the sacraments of initiation to ensure they are received in this order: baptism, confirmation and first Communion. In the sequencing, confirmation follows baptism, as it completes the grace of that first sacrament with the full gift of the Holy Spirit. Communion caps one’s initiation into the Church, according to canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The target year to have all parishes in the Denver Archdiocese conferring sacraments according to restored order is this year.

“Restored order is the practice of celebrating the sacraments of initiation in the order they were originally given in the Church,” said Scott Elmer, executive director of the archdiocese’s Evangelization and Family Life Ministries office. “We celebrate the sacraments of confirmation and the Eucharist as close to the age of reason as possible.”

Due to coronavirus-caused delays, both the Denver and Los Angeles archbishops delegated the faculty to confer confirmation to pastors. Other bishops have done the same.

“That’s to make sure there isn’t any impediment to getting children their sacraments,” Elmer said.

Brooklyn Herrera is thrilled that the long-awaited moment is now just around the corner.

“I’m excited about the whole thing!” she said.


The Abner Family

In the Indianapolis Archdiocese, first Communion is conferred in second grade and confirmation is done anytime from eighth grade to high school, said Ken Ogorek, archdiocesan director of catechesis. The pandemic-caused postponements to receiving the sacraments have resulted in families expressing a deepening of their individual and family prayer time and a hunger for the sacraments, Ogorek said.

“It’s wonderful that we’ve seen growth unfolding in the domestic church by God’s grace and mercy,” he said. “Now we have an opportunity to help people understand and appreciate how the sacraments have always been meant to complement that life of faith. They’ve been missing Jesus in the sacraments. The sacraments are an entirely unique way to encounter Christ.”

Linda and Andrew Abner, parishioners at St. Michael Church in Bradford, Indiana, are parents to four children ranging in age from 8 to 15. Their youngest, Fletcher, was set to make his first Communion at the end of April. Due to COVID-19 Mass suspensions, it was moved to the weekend of the Corpus Christi Solemnity in June.

“He’ll have a different first Communion story from the older kids,” Linda Abner said with a chuckle. “Sometimes the baby of the family doesn’t have something unique — now Fletcher does!”

Not only did the first Communion get delayed due to the pandemic, but when it took place, like elsewhere in the nation, in addition to other restrictions and guidelines, attendees and participants were obligated to wear masks and observe social distancing, and the size of the assembly was limited.

All that was just fine with Fletcher.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said about the wait and his then-upcoming first Communion Mass. “All I wanted to do was to not get coronavirus, No. 1, and I do want to get closer to Jesus.”

Mom Linda expressed gratitude for the extra family time they’ve all enjoyed.

“We’ve had a lot of campfires,” added Fletcher. “And now we say extra prayers.”

Fellow parishioner Molly Coomer, 16, is preparing for confirmation, which is set to take place in October. She said the suspension of Mass and confirmation classes caused her to miss socializing with her classmates and fellow parishioners.

“A blessing is being able to stop from our busy lives and from being caught up in things we thought were important,” she said. “Now I see what the important things are, and I’m able to reflect on how we can better ourselves and be better for the Lord.”

Regarding her upcoming confirmation, she added, “I’m looking forward to being able to say that I’m an adult in the Catholic Church and to establish myself as that.”

Deacon John Jacobi, parish religious education director and youth ministry coordinator, affirmed the sacrament delays have led parishioners to both a deeper longing for the sacraments and for human interaction.

“The blessing has been that it builds our appreciation,” he said. “It’s good to long for that communion.

“Father Aaron Pfaff, our pastor, told the first Communion children that Jesus is longing for their first Communion day, too.”

Roxanne King writes from Denver.