TRUMBULL—On a glorious Sunday morning, hundreds of parishioners gathered in their cars outside St. Theresa Church in Trumbull for an opportunity they had not had in over two months: the ability to attend public Mass and receive Holy Communion. After weeks of logistical planning to meet the directives of the diocese, Father Brian Gannon said people had a great desire to return to Mass.
“The interest level has been so high. It’s very inspiring to see so many people here. And the glory of God is shining upon us!” said St. Theresa’s pastor with his hands outstretched to the mid-morning sun. “What a beautiful day that God has given us!”
Though many parishioners routinely watched Sunday Mass through the church’s livestreamed service, the joy of celebrating the Eucharist in community is like no other. Mary Wolpiuk, a longtime parishioner who attended Sunday’s 10 am service, felt privileged to be there. “I have really had a lot of communion with God during this absence [of public Mass],” she said, “but nothing can replace the opportunity to receive Holy Communion.”
In preparation for this opening, nearly 30 volunteers from the parish worked to create the outdoor sanctuary. A storage container atop two flatbed trucks served as the altar with a crucifix hanging in the center and photographs of patron saint Therese of Lisieux on either side. The reconfigured parking lot allowed for scores of cars to face the sanctuary and enable the priests to maintain social distancing while distributing Holy Communion. Though parishioners were required to remain in their vehicles, they could tune into Mass via their car radios through FM 90.9, dubbed by Father Gannon as the “station for salvation!”
As St. Theresa’s adjusts to outdoor celebrations, only three Masses each weekend will be held—a 4:30 pm Saturday Vigil as well as a 10 am and 12 noon service on Sunday. To guarantee a parking space, reservations are made on a week-to-week basis, with priority given to registered parishioners.
During his homily on this Sunday of Memorial Day, Father Gannon often alluded to these challenging times that the Catholic Church and indeed the entire world has faced throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the very reason for celebrating outdoors.
“God’s greatest message is one of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope,” he said, as leaves rustled above the makeshift sanctuary and car engines hummed up and down the rows. “During the time of this virus, we have been in a period of waiting, and we ask ourselves, ‘Have I prayed more? Or have I used it as an excuse not to?’”
“Wherever we say Mass,” he added, “there are people who desire communion with God—whether it is in St. Peter’s Square, the back of an army Jeep, or outside in a parking lot.”
While some procedures during the Mass varied slightly from the traditional indoor service, Father Gannon and Father Flavian Bejan, associate pastor, took great care to preserve the sacred distribution of Holy Communion, with parishioners receiving just outside their vehicles or reverently at the foot of the sanctuary.
Social distancing protocol prevented friends from greeting each other or offering the Sign of Peace, but for many, just being there was enough. “Seeing the community all together was very special, particularly during these times,” said 16-year-old Kate Barton who attended the noon Mass with her family. “It was an amazing feeling.”
As Mass ended and parishioners exited the lot, Father Gannon waved and chatted briefly with them all. And in thanksgiving for all soldiers on this Memorial Day weekend, the cantor’s chords of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” reaffirmed to everyone in attendance that despite any struggle we face “His truth is marching on.”
By Emily Clark