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Catholic Churches In N.H. Resume Communion While In-Person Mass Still Prohibited

Todd Bookman/NHPR

For the faithful, live streaming Sunday Mass is akin to watching fireworks on television: you can see it, and hear it, but you don’t feel it.

“It’s not the same,” said Mary Sanphy of Concord, who has spent the past few months praying alongside a screen. 

On Sunday, though, Sanphy and other Catholics in New Hampshire were able to receive Holy Communion in person for the first time in more than two months.

As long as social distancing is observed and other guidelines followed, the Diocese of Manchester is allowing parishes to offer the Eucharist.

“There is a feeling you get here you don’t get watching it,” said Sanphy. 

At Immaculate Heart of Mary on Loudon Road in Concord, more than 200 people lined up, separated by markings on the floor, to receive Communion.

With the help of ushers in reflective vests and masks, the trip from the parking lot to the altar and back took only a matter of minutes.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t savored.

“We’ve been starving for the bread of life,” said Connie Soucy, who along with her husband Armand, has been streaming Mass.

Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR
While in-person services remain cancelled, the church is offering Communion during a limited window on Sundays.

“It feels refreshing, and invigorating.”

During Sunday’s live streamed service, Father Ray Ball said the safety and health of church-goers and the broader community remained a priority.

He urged those considered at higher risk for complications from COVID-19 to continue worshiping from home, rather than venture to the church for Communion.

About thirty minutes after Mass ended with a reminder to wear red at home next Sunday to mark the Pentecost, the doors of Immaculate Heart opened. 

“I prayed to God this morning as to whether I should come. I’m 72 years old,” said Barry Boriss of Loudon. Behind his mask, removed only to accept the host from Father Ray, he smiled and said it was worth it.

“There is nothing like being here in person. You really feel Jesus’s presence when you are here,” he said.

It isn’t clear when in-person services may resume in New Hampshire. While President Trump earlier this week ordered governors to allow for services to begin immediately, Gov. Chris Sununu balked at an immediate restart.

Sununu said he is awaiting CDC guidelines, and that he has ultimate authority on the topic.

During Mass, Father Ray Ball urged patience from his faithful, saying that the virus still posed a risk. He said to enforce social distancing, the church likely couldn’t accommodate more than 50 worshipers at a time. 

“Normally on a weekend, we have 650 people attend. Which would mean we’d have to have thirteen Masses. I know I’m energetic, but that may be a little bit beyond,” he joked to the empty pews and worshipers watching from home.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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