Father Edward Blanchett, left, and Father Michael Santangelo pray for medical staff of Brick Hospital on Holy Saturday.  Courtesy photo
Father Edward Blanchett, left, and Father Michael Santangelo pray for medical staff of Brick Hospital on Holy Saturday. Courtesy photo
The priests of Mary, Mother of the Church Parish have a practice of visiting the elderly, ill and homebound parishioners every month.

In April, however, those visits took on a different form, as Father Martin O’ Reilly and Father Cesar Anson, pastor and parochial vicar, respectively, of the parish that serves Bordentown/Florence/Roebling, traveled with the monstrance, practicing social-distancing rules as they held up the Eucharist before houses and doorways.

The reason for bringing the Blessed Sacrament within the monstrance, Father O’Reilly said, was to reach those who could not access livestreamed Masses or online family prayer hours during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

“These were the people who for 70, 80 and 90 years have supported their Church and parish and now felt locked out and isolated – unable to gather and pray,” Father O’Reilly said after the visits around April 16-17.

Those visited, he said, “would gather at their front doors or windows. Father Anson and I would pray with them and petition God to keep them, their family and home safe from all diseases and especially from the coronavirus. Then they would receive a special blessing with the Blessed Eucharist in the monstrance.

“This brought a great sense of comfort and peace and, on some occasions, tears,” Father O’Reilly continued. “As one person said, ‘To have Jesus come to me in this way brings me great hope that I will come through this.’”

Christ’s Comfort

For Father O’Reilly, the idea of bringing Christ in the monstrance stemmed from seeing priests or hospital chaplains do the same for staff and patients.  “I was very moved by it and knew that this is what Christ wanted done    to go to his people and bless them.”

That was the outreach extended in Ocean County, as the pastors of two Brick parishes came together to pray outside Brick Hospital on Holy Saturday.

Medical staff gathered and patients looked on from their hospital room windows as Father Edward Blanchett, pastor of Visitation Parish, read a prayer, and Father Michael Santangelo, pastor of Epiphany Parish, blessed the congregation with a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament.

“[It was an] opportunity to actually pray with and for members of the hospital staff,” Father Santangelo said. “It is one thing to tell the staff that they are in our prayers – and it is important to tell them – but to give them the chance to be present while being prayed for was something special for all of us.”

It was the first time the priests had collaborated, as both are in different Cohorts, and Father Santangelo said the hospital staff were very grateful. 

“They are wonderful people in a high-stress situation,” he said. “Most of the staff were probably there for most of Easter weekend, and this was a little time out to allow Christ to bless them.”

Father Blanchett said, “Over the times that I have been there since this crisis started, I noticed how the staff were always working to support each other: from the moments of silent sharing to the light-hearted moments,” he said.

“I would offer what words of support and encouragement that I could, but never quite found it enough,” he said. “When Father Mike suggested bringing the Blessed Sacrament, I suddenly found my answer: Let Jesus offer them comfort by the blessing of his presence! I know that it helped them, and I am humbled that we could be an instrument of that blessing.”

Hope Needed

Father O’Reilly said he and Father Anson found the blessings “a very special moment in our priesthood, something so simple that could bring so much hope to people’s lives.

“If we are to be honest with ourselves, that is what we all need in a time like this: hope! The hope of knowing that God is with us … and God will help us with what comes from this time of COVID-19,” Father O’Reilly said.

“It is so easy and understandable to let despair and anxiety set in – the disciples did after the Death of Jesus,” he continued. “They locked themselves away from the authorities out of fear for what might happen to them – but we see in the days and weeks after Christ’s Resurrection, he comes to reassure, encourage and strengthen his followers.

“We are no different – Christ comes to reassure, encourage and strengthen us at this challenging time. Let’s not be like Thomas, doubting and needing solid proof, but let us make his declaration of faith, ‘My Lord and my God.’”