Assumption Honors War Dead and COVID-19 Heroes

FAIRFIELD — Parishioners at Our Lady of the Assumption gathered Sunday in their cars for a drive-in Mass to honor the “brave men and women who have given their lives in the cause of freedom, along with heroes in the invisible war against coronavirus COVID-19.”

“Our service today recognizes the servicemen and women who have proudly served our nation and answered the call to arms to defend and protect us in wars spanning our country’s history,” Father Peter Cipriani said in his remarks. “Globally in 2020, answering the call was again repeated. Essential workers in healthcare and related fields came forward to assist and save us, risking their own lives in the process.”

More than 30 cars were neatly arranged in the church parking lot as Father Cipriani and Deacon Robert McLaughlin mounted a small stage to a portable altar, situated at the back of the church between two trees. Behind them was a small tabernacle and above them a crucifix hung from the stonework of the church.

The entrance hymn, “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee),” was broadcast from inside the church to the sound system outside as the American flag and the American Legion flag fluttered in the breeze. On one side of the altar was a statue of St. Michael the Archangel and on the other, Our Lady of Fatima.

“Although continually troubled by this disease, we have become more acutely aware of our need for one another and certainly our need for God,” Father Cipriani told the faithful, reminding them that “As excited as you may be being here to receive Communion, don’t forget there’s nobody who is more excited than Jesus to be able to have you receive him again.”

The Mass was celebrated under a cloudless blue sky. At Communion, Father and Deacon walked among the parked cars, as parishioners wearing masks stood in front of them, waiting to receive the Eucharist. Several knelt on the pavement in prayer. Many expressed their gratitude and joy to be able to receive the Body of Christ again after several months when restrictions on public gatherings prevented them from attending Mass.

At the conclusion of the Mass, Father and Deacon, led by a Knights of Columbus honor guard, processed to the front of the church, along with representatives of American Legion Post 143, to lay a wreath at the foot of a cross flanked by American flags.

Tom Quinn, a Vietnam era veteran and commander of Post 143 and member of the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame, talked about the significance of the memorial Mass and said: “This is for all the comrades we left behind — 58,000 in Vietnam alone. We’re here to pay honor to all the dead veterans and to the frontline workers under attack during the coronavirus pandemic. This is no different than any war.” He was joined by his wife Grace, the mother of six sons, his son Jim and his grandsons Charlie, and Henry, an altar server at Assumption.

In his homily, Father Cipriani talked about the significance and power of names, especially the Holy Name of Jesus.

“When a baby is born and the couple speaks their child’s name out loud and in person for the first time, it is more than a word borne on their lips,” he said. “That name, that spoken name is like a magic spell that brings fortune and health. That name will echo forever in their souls, adding love to love there.”

Adam named all the animals in the garden, not because he was their master, but because naming them implied a responsibility.

“The naming indicates a being responsible for the one named,” Father said. “It is a responsibility that implies caring, providing for, protecting, defending, teaching and sacrificing for, as parents try to do. And this, too, is God’s attitude toward us.”

“When I think of the significance of names, I invariably think about sports,” Father said, referencing the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” at the U.S. Winter Olympics.

“To this day, no one can quite pinpoint how a roster of 20 guys right out of college, all from different areas, all with different stories and backgrounds, defeated the world’s Number One hockey team at Lake Placid with men almost twice the experience of the U.S. players, and twice as strong, who had been playing together for many years,” Father said. “The answer is quite simple: Those 20 hockey players made a decision that the sum was more important than the parts. They put the team before the individual player….Being part of a team is something greater than anything you could achieve or accomplish on your own.”

He recalled that coach Herb Brooks scolded his team, who up to that point had been self-serving players: “When you pull on that jersey, the name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the name on the back.” The players, in turn, made the decision to play for their country rather than play for their individual selves.

“Some names when spoken are of the greatest significance,” Father said. “More than a person’s name, the name Jesus Christ is also a function or exercise of power, the greatest in fact — the power to save because that is what the name Jesus means, ‘God saves.’” Quoting St. Paul, he said, “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

He urged parishioners to “Keep ‘Christ’ in ‘Christian’ by keeping Christ in our lives, our hearts and in our homes.”

He said, “When receiving the Holy Eucharist, we literally keep Christ within us by way of Holy Communion. More significant than our last name, our first name, our confirmation name is the name ‘Christian,’ which implies we are responsible for contributing to the success of something, or rather someone, greater than ourselves — the Body of Christ.”

Being part of Team Christian, Team Church and Team Christ will lead us to the greatest success story in all human history, which is Redemption, he said.

In an interview before the Mass, Father said, “There is no greater connection a Catholic has to God and other Catholics than the Eucharist and having this suspension in place made people feel a disconnect, but at the same time it also challenged us to think outside the box and figure out ways to remain connected to Christ.” At Assumption, the church was open every day for private prayer, and there was live-streaming of Masses, rosaries and prayer services.

“On Ascension Thursday, the opportunity to distribute Holy Communion again to the people was tremendous, and there was such a joy, such a relief,” Father said. “It was a beautiful day, and everything seemed to be right as rain in the world. It was almost like a graduation. We made it, we’ve arrived at this point. Everything went very smoothly and people were so grateful. At the end of Mass, I stood by the exit as they were leaving, honking their horns and saying, ‘Thank you, thank you. This was great.’”

Father also expressed his gratitude to those who have assisted in preparing the outdoor Masses, including facilities manager Josh Orosz, his mother Irene and brother Sal, along with Jim Guzzi, the sound system expert.

Irene Orosz, a parishioner 25 years who was helping set up and direct traffic on Sunday, said, “When they first closed the church, it broke my heart.” Looking up at the blue sky, she said, “Father must know somebody upstairs because the weather has been great. I’m so glad we’re back. It’s nice to see people gather again to worship God. You can see the joy on their faces when they pull up. We are so blessed to have Father Peter.”

Her older son Josh, who with his brother graduated from Assumption School, has been responsible for implementing some of the worship ideas that Father conceived, such as Eucharistic adoration on the garage roof.

“It’s been fun to get him set up, and we’ve had a good turnout,” he said. “But it makes you wonder if everything will go back to normal. I just hope everyone will be a little kinder to one another after this is over.”

His brother Sal Orosz, who assisted in setting up the altar and directing traffic is discerning a vocation to the priesthood. A recent graduate of St. Joseph High School, he plans to enter St. John Fisher Seminary at the end of the summer.

“I really loved St. Joe’s and found a family there. It’s kind of bittersweet to leave it behind,” he said. He was pleased to see the church getting back to normal and said, “On Ascension Thursday, I saw one family receive the Eucharist, and they knelt down and were weeping. It was beautiful. Words fall short when you try to describe it.”

Thompson Okumodi, a parishioner for 20 years, who was directing traffic, said, “This is a way to help us start to get back to normal. This time has been a wake-up call for people to realize there is a God and that there is a hidden enemy we are fighting. I’m so glad people are here and that they are coming out again.”

He praised Father Cipriani and Assumption School and said that his son Michael, who graduated from Assumption, went on to Fairfield Prep and is now a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology, studying computer engineering.

Jeff Thompson, Grand Knight of Our Lady of Assumption Council 11077, helped with traffic control and said he was eager to get back into the church and return to his routine.

“I usually go daily Mass,” he said. “I’m a crossing guard, so I go to 7:30 Mass and I can be out at my crossing at 8 a.m. I’m really looking forward to doing that again.”