A woman extends her hand to receive the Eucharist from Father James O'Neill during the 8 a.m. Mass May 24 in the parking lot of St. John Parish, Lakehurst. Rich Hundley photo
A woman extends her hand to receive the Eucharist from Father James O'Neill during the 8 a.m. Mass May 24 in the parking lot of St. John Parish, Lakehurst. Rich Hundley photo

In addition to his priestly vestments, Father Cesar Rubiano wore a fitted facemask March 23 as he greeted each vehicle of parents, grandparents and children that pulled up for the in-car Mass at St. Joachim Church.

Photo Gallery: In-car Mass in Our Lady of the Angels Parish, Trenton

Photo Gallery: In-car Mass in St. John Parish, Lakehurst

“Our parish community is a community of families,” Father Rubiano, pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, said of the in-car Masses he celebrated in the Trenton church’s parking lot Saturday afternoon in English and early evening in Spanish.

“I am so proud to have mothers, fathers and their children, and youth coming to Mass,” Father Rubiano said. “We are one family here.”

Standing at least six feet from an open vehicle window, Father Rubiano prayed with cars full of families and offered blessings before Mass. For cars with young children, he waved or rose his hand in a long-distance high-five.

Families of Faith

May 23-24 was the first weekend in-car Masses and the distribution of the Eucharist were allowed in the Diocese since the March 16 suspension of Mass amid COVID-19 concerns. Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., approved the start of in-car Masses beginning May 18; the decision is part of a gradual, multiphase plan for parishes in the Diocese to reopen with recommendations coming from a task force of priests.

“I feel like we’re seeing the light at the end of a very dark tunnel,” said Maritza Albarran of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, who attended in-car Mass with her two children, Esmeralda Bodon, 16, and Joel Bodon, 13. Albarran served as a reader for Mass, and Esmeralda was an altar server.

“I felt happy, joyful, emotional and blessed to be at the Mass,” she said.

Father James O’Neill, pastor of St. John Parish, Lakehurst, said he was happy with the number of cars the parking lot Masses drew over the weekend and throughout the week before. There were about 75 cars present for the 8 a.m. Mass May 24.

“People are really hungry for the Eucharist,” he said.

He reflected on those who received Holy Communion for the first time since March. “There’s gratitude, wonder and fear of the Lord,” he said, noting that a few parishioners had tears in their eyes.

“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the awe and reverence in these … conditions,” Father O’Neill said. “The people are really entering into the Sacred Mysteries. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit and the people’s cooperation,” he said, noting that along with St. John parishioners, he recognized some from neighboring parishes.

As active parishioners in various liturgical ministries, Cathy DiCostanzo and Barbara Sanna of Our Lady of the Angels Parish have had occasions to be on the parish campus since Masses were suspended, especially during the Holy Week and Easter liturgies, all of which were livestreamed. 

Sanna, who is also the parish catechetical leader and helps decorate the church, reflected how when she would walk into the church and look at the tabernacle, she would think, “Jesus is there, I’m here but we can’t meet. Spiritually we met, but we couldn’t meet physically. I couldn’t receive him.”

With the in-car Masses, she said, “It was wonderful to receive Holy Communion, and the parishioners were happy to receive as well. That was evident by the smiles on their faces.”

Added DiCostanzo, “It was challenging not being able to see people who I am used to seeing three or four times a week, and that’s because we’re like a family here. We’re a very close tight-knit group. I believe that when we are able to return for Mass inside our churches, we will return all the stronger for it.”

Further Outreach

During the Masses in Trenton, people could be seen watching from their home windows, and Father Rubiano said he noticed cars and people passing by had slowed down “just to see what was happening.”

Albarran, too, noted how the in-car Masses could serve as an invitation and send the message that “everyone is welcome.”

Mary Ann Dempkowski, director of religious education in St. John Parish, Lakehurst, added, “I suppose others seeing the cars in the parking lot for Mass could initiate some interest to see what it’s about. I would certainly think that [the parking lot Mass] would be a good start for them to come back.”