Priests and parishioners alike throughout the Archdiocese of Newark have been rejoicing since the return of public Sunday Masses. On June 21, archdiocesan parishes, which had reopened the previous week for weekday Masses, funerals, baptisms and weddings, opened its doors for weekend services after a three-month closure.
“Watching their reaction as they walked into church was heartwarming. You could tell how important it is to them to be able to do this once again,” said Father Bob Wolfee, the pastor of Sacred Heart in Haworth. “It felt so good to be able to interact with them, even if it was just a nod or saying hello from a distance.”
Though the church buildings are back open, many restrictions remain in place, such as limited capacity, requiring face masks and continuing to social distance.
Lucille Layne, a parishioner and an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at Sacred Heart, admitted it felt a bit unnatural at first, but had a change of heart. “The need to receive the Eucharist was far greater than the restrictions. It was more intense to receive than not to go,” she said. “I felt the safest place was being in the presence of God. I wanted to see my church family.”
Layne said she remained connected to her faith during the closure by watching livestream Masses with her adult son TJ, who is special needs. She said he hasn’t been able to return to church yet because he can’t wear a mask, but she makes sure he doesn’t miss out.
“I go to daily Mass and bring Communion home,” said Layne, who brings a pyx to church. “He does miss it. He loves the Mass, knows the prayers. As limited as he is, this is very near and dear to his heart.”
She said when restrictions are lifted, she’ll bring her son back to church. Layne added that she hopes the restrictions don’t deter others who are able to attend. “I feel very safe in the church. I hope people will come back and feel the same way. I hope their drive to receive (the Eucharist) will be as great. There’s no reason to feel uncomfortable,” she explained.
“Being able to distribute the Eucharist to them was especially meaningful,” said Father Wolfee. “I look forward to more people returning to Mass as they themselves begin to feel comfortable to be with a limited crowd.”
The pastor of St. Raphael’s in Livingston, Father Erlito Ebron, echoed those sentiments. “I was excited to see our St. Raphael parishioners again. However, I knew that many would still be apprehensive to coming back considering the pandemic is still ongoing. While we only had a handful of parishioners come to the church this (first) weekend, I know that it will continue to grow,” he said.
Richard Aguinaldo was one of the parishioners in attendance. He said receiving Communion again was special and that he never felt detached from the parish. “Mass times on Saturday and Sunday remained the same throughout the closure via livestream Masses. We were never ‘starved’ of our spiritual nourishment,” he stated.
“The way St. Raphael’s conducts its Masses, whether in person or livestream, is interactive. You feel the presence of the Lord. It is an awesome experience,” Aguinaldo added.
“Our interactive livestream Masses that we have been running since day one were a bright spot and it continues,” Father Ebron said. “We have been running four livestream Sunday Masses every week, and the transition to having parishioners in the church again was seamless. All along it has felt like we were all together as one community. Despite the uncertainty, I believe this experience has made our community stronger.”
For Layne, being able to attend Mass means no longer feeling a void. “It’s comforting when all else is failing around you, it gives you hope. God is hope. Going to Mass is exhilarating for me.”