Hymns played softly as a steady stream of members of St. Gregory Catholic Church in Phoenix, Arizona, walked slowly through the Gordon Hall to receive Holy Communion on Sunday.
The pastor of St. Gregory Catholic Church, Father Andres Arango, announced on the church’s Facebook page last Thursday that the hall would be open from 2 to 3 pm for those who watched the virtual Mass online Sunday morning — 10 a.m. in English and noon in Spanish — to come receive Holy Communion in person.
It was the first Holy Communion parishioners have received in more than 6 weeks since the church moved Mass online on 24th March.
Many churches throughout the Valley have shifted services in light of Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order, like Living Word Bible Church in Mesa hosting drive-in services for religious holidays like Easter.
St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church, which live-streams a Mass daily, has been offering in-person outdoor confessional on the school’s campus, according to its website.
At St. Gregory Catholic Church, receiving Holy Communion required a new process Sunday.
Arango said the precautions followed the guidelines mandated by Ducey, including keeping the amount of people in the building at one time to 25 per cent of the maximum capacity.
Allowing church members to come receive Holy Communion within that hour time frame gave people the ability to come at their own pace so everyone was not there at the same time, Arango said.
Most attendees wore masks, and a list of guidelines were posted outside the parish for people to read upon arrival.
The list reminded church members to “be in a state of grace” while maintaining 6 feet of distance and coming in with clean hands.
Arango said the staff at the parish was intentionally kept to a minimum with two volunteers directing people, two extraordinary ministers and one woman facilitating the number of people coming inside the hall.
People were directed by volunteers and arrows taped to the ground to enter the hall through a side door and exit through the front doors.
Holy Communion, a religious ceremony that symbolizes the act of receiving the “presence” of Christ, is sometimes placed directly into the mouth of the person who is receiving it.
The safety guidelines for Sunday’s communion included being received “only by hand” from the two extraordinary ministers in the hall.
Arango and the two ministers picked up a small wafer and put it in the parishioner’s hand, who then could pull down their mask and put it in their mouths.
Arango said he was happy to provide Holy Communion to members of the parish on Sunday as a follow-up to the “communication” provided by the virtual Mass, with an emphasis on health and safety.
“Receiving the body of Jesus is part of the Mass, and it’s important to me,” said Maxine Paul, a member of the parish.
It’s beneficial for some people to “come to their own spiritual home” and see their priest face-to-face, Arango said.
“They didn’t talk because it was a spiritual moment, but I saw the smile, the tears (and) the peace of many people,” Arango said.
Ginger Baron said she’s been attending the virtual Mass and coming to Holy Communion was important to her because “it’s a sacrament.”
The church asked parishioners to send individual or family photos showing participation in the online Mass in a post on its Facebook.
“We’re sending in photographs,” Baron said. “Making our homes be the living churches.”
Steve Jenkins said it felt good to be able to come receive Holy Communion after watching Mass streamed online each Sunday for over a month.
“It’s been a real interesting experience,” Jenkins said. “I think it’s been wonderful.”
Jenkins said it’s been an adjustment because he’d never attended virtual church before the stay-at-home order.
“It makes you think about your faith a little bit too, so it’s quite a bit different,” Jenkins said.
Paul said opening the church for Holy Communion with safety precautions in place is “a good start.”
“We don’t need to open really fast,” Paul said. “I think we need to go slowly, take all the precautions and make sure everybody follows the rules.”
St. Gregory Catholic Church will begin gathering in-person for Mass with added safety precautions starting next Sunday, Arango said.
Story and picture by Chelsea Hofmann, Arizona Republic, courtesy of the AZ Central website: https://eu.azcentral.com