New York City, N.Y., Apr 8, 2020 / 04:00 am (CNA).- Charlotte Price and Ellen Rogers thought they would be getting confirmed together on April 11, the Easter Vigil, at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan. They thought they would have a crowd of their friends with them, and they thought they would be able to celebrate immediately with their loved ones.
None of that happened.
Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City, the Archdiocese of New York suspended the public celebration of Mass on March 14, meaning that the chances of an Easter Vigil liturgy a month later looked pretty slim. So the Dominicans who taught Price and Rogers’ RCIA classes did what they did best: improvised.
And that is how, over the course of one year of discernment, prayer, and RCIA, Price went from having never been to Mass to being confirmed at a private one; and from never knowing a religious sister to having an audience of 12 of them at her confirmation Mass.
Raised a Congregationalist in Massachusetts, Price, 34, found herself outside of any sort of religion for about two decades. Her journey to the faith took many twists and turns, but she eventually found herself at St. Vincent Ferrer, and emailing Fr. Joseph Martin Hagan, O.P., the newly-ordained priest who was in charge of RCIA.
Rogers’ journey to the Catholic faith was nearly the opposite of Price’s–she had always been religious, and had even attended Catholic Mass for years.
Raised an Anglican in Texas, Rogers attended the University of Dallas, where she began to feel the call to enter into full communion with the Church around the age of 19. About four years later, after moving to New York City last June, she began that journey in earnest, and signed up for RCIA at St. Vincent Ferrer.
Neither sought out St. Vincent Ferrer due to its connection with the Dominican Order–the church is the location of the headquarters of the Eastern Province–but both grew to appreciate the Dominican friars at the parish.
Rogers was told by a friend that St. Vincent Ferrer was “the most beautiful church in the city,” which prompted her to take a visit.
“I just fell in love with the liturgy and saw they had a big sign outside like ‘email for RCIA,’ and I said, ‘okay.’”
Price told CNA that before attending St. Vincent Ferrer, she did not know what a Dominican friar was, and thought the name was a reference to the Dominican Republic.
“I was like, ‘is it gonna be in Spanish?’” she said, laughing. After learning that Mass was, in fact, celebrated in English at St. Vincent Ferrer, she began attending regularly.
The two both told CNA that their RCIA journeys went relatively smoothly–until the first cases of COVID-19 were found in the city and churches around the world began shutting their doors and suspending public Masses.
“I probably started thinking ‘this might not happen’ very early,” Price said. “I think I remember the first time I thought, ‘oh, this probably isn’t going to happen’ was Ash Wednesday. And at that point, everyone said I was being ridiculous.”
She said that she took the news of the likely cancelation of Easter Vigil very hard, particularly because she feared the possibility of dying without being confirmed, receiving the Eucharist, or going to confession.
“I was very upset,” Price told CNA. “I mean, I didn’t blame the Church or anything, but especially since I had a much longer period away from any church–like I spent 20 years probably not going to any church at all–so for me, I was like, ‘Oh, I finally figured it out,’ I finally said ‘yes’ to Christ, and now I’m not going to be able to even to join the Church.”
She said because she had read news reports about healthy people her age that were dying of COVID-19, she was particularly concerned about getting her spiritual affairs in order in case she contracted the virus.
“All of a sudden, my mortality is right there,” she said.
“Before, I was like, ‘I’m fine waiting,’” she said. “Whatever God has in mind. But then I was like, if I die, and I haven’t been confirmed, I haven’t gotten to confess my sins, I just absolutely do not want that to happen.”
Price quickly sprung into action, and arranged her first confession. Rogers soon followed suit.
When it became clear that New York was going to implement some sort of shelter-in-place directive, St. Vincent Ferrer moved quickly to accommodate as many people from their RCIA class as possible, but within the city’s guidelines regarding social distancing and canon law. Price responded to the email first, and was confirmed in a private Mass.
The audience was just six friends–the number she was told she could invite–and 12 members of the Sisters of Life, who “sang beautifully,” said Price.
Music, she explained, was one of the things that drew her to the Church, so the experience of getting a private choir at her confirmation Mass was “amazing.”
Fr. Hagan, who celebrated the Mass, preached a homily that was entirely about Price’s journey to the faith. Price took Mary, the Mother of God, as her confirmation saint.
Rogers, who was confirmed at a separate Mass with several others, took St. Catherine of Bologna as her confirmation saint.
Rogers told CNA that her first time receiving the Eucharist was “amazing,” even though it was extremely unusual. Due to archdiocesan regulations aimed at preventing the spread of disease, the candidates had to receive the Eucharist by intinction, which means that the Host was dipped in the Precious Blood before it was given to the communicant.
“All of us were kneeling in the first pew, and Father just came to each of us and brought the sacrament to us,” Rogers said.
“So we were still kneeling, and I will never forget the Precious Body being dunked in the Blood and then looking up and seeing it, and for the first time ever seeing the flesh and blood together and it had never been so real,” she said. “That is the literal flesh and blood of my Savior, and He had just never been so personal, and so real.”
As someone who was raised Anglican, and whose family is very involved in the Anglican communion—her brother is an Anglican seminarian–Rogers said coming to terms with the differences between the communion and rituals she participated in as a child and those in the Catholic Church was one of the hardest parts of her journey into the faith.
“I just decided, it is not for me to worry about anymore,” she said, but she continues to pray that her family will join her across the Tiber.
Both women told CNA that they cried at different parts of their confirmations. For Price, it was when she received the Eucharist. For Rogers, it was when she was reciting the Profession of Faith.
“There’s like a single sentence in the (Profession of Faith), ‘I confess and believe everything that the Holy Roman Catholic Church teaches,’ and it was just that, that one sentence that I could feel my voice trembling and just the single, like, soap opera tear down my cheek,” she said
“And I was like, hold it together. Hold it together.”
One of the six people Rogers invited to her confirmation was Price, who called the experience “such a gift.”
At that Mass, “I could actually receive Communion for the first time like a normal Catholic,” said Price.
She does not yet know when she will be able to do that again.
The continued suspension of public Masses has not been easy for neither Price nor Rogers, but both said that they have taken immense comfort in their last-minute reception of the sacraments.
As someone who regularly attended Catholic Masses before she was received into the Church, Rogers said that she had been “surprised” by how it felt to watch live-streamed Masses as a freshly confirmed Catholic.
“There’s almost less distance now than there has been,” she said.
“Just the grace of having received the sacraments, and there’s of course longing and sorrow for not being physically present, but knowing that ‘I have received the sacraments. I am in a state of grace. I can recite the act of spiritual communion.’ There is this sense of ‘I am part of the universal Church,’ and that can never be taken from me.”
Price said knowing that she was “really part of a community now” has helped ease her feelings of isolation and loneliness.
“I mean, I’m an only child, but now I have brothers and sisters in Christ everywhere,” she said.
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