Is the time of the great supper over?
Each year the religious, educational and social calendars in Ireland are punctuated by the annual departure of little girls in immaculate white dresses and boys looking dapper in smart suits and polished shoes.
But in the past two years of intermittent lockdowns, the communion season has been very muted. Communion services have been cancelled, postponed or conducted on a drastically reduced basis, with services being limited to the child celebrating his or her communion and their parents. And after-service family gatherings were, in most cases, completely off the table.
And while many families were disappointed to miss the traditional grand communion celebration, some welcomed the opportunity to enjoy a low-key ceremony and focus on the spiritual aspect of the celebration rather than the social. But as restrictions ease – and parishes return to normal – the question is: is the great sacrament about to make a comeback? Or has Covid changed communions forever?
Caterer Aine Gavigan of Uisneach Catering in Westmeath says that while family celebrations are back on the agenda this year, bookings have been slower than usual and parents are opting for more low-key events.
“There were no communions in 2020, but last year, while there were certainly fewer (parties) than normal, there were some very small celebrations,” she says.
“Mind you people booked much later as they waited to see how the Covid situation developed and we had a number of last minute cancellations due to positive cases and close contacts in the family groups.
“So far this year is busier than last but still not as busy as before the pandemic. We’ve also noticed that the bookings are for smaller numbers – I think people are definitely more cautious now that the numbers of Covid cases are rising again.”
Ray Hogan, who runs a eponymous catering business in Clare, agrees. He says that while many small events were planned last year, many were cancelled. This year he’s seen a similar trend, with people slow to make elaborate plans.
“I think people are a little more cautious (than before Covid),” he says. “And while business appears to be picking up, I think it will be a few years before things get back to how they were before the pandemic.”
And despite the easing of public health restrictions, some congregations seem anecdotally to remain cautious, demanding that families keep church numbers down themselves, though church authorities seem reluctant to say so publicly. That Irish Independent contacted a number of parish offices across the country to ask for their guidelines including Harold’s Cross, Marino and Killiney in Dublin, Douglas in Cork and Limerick city center but none were available for comment.
A representative from a community in Dublin city center, who only wished to speak on condition of anonymity, said the number in their local community had been reduced because there were “still vulnerable people in the area who could be at risk if.” a large number would enter the church”.
It is clear that where communions have been reduced, not everyone is happy. A Dublin-based mum, who also wished to remain anonymous, said her local church had restricted numbers to “only parents and godparents of the communion child” – an attitude that was “completely out of touch and unfair to all people” who have been around for so long have lost touch with family and want to celebrate their special day with loved ones.”
But Vicki O Callaghan, who lives in Cork with her daughter Ruby, says while she is also aware of some parishes that have been asked to reduce the number of upcoming services, she is full steam ahead in Ballincollig so far.
“My nephew has his communion this year and as far as I know they were told that only immediate family can attend,” she says. “I think it depends on the size of the church, and smaller ones have undoubtedly always had limited numbers. Ruby has her communion in May and we haven’t said yet who or how many can come to church.
“But since she had her first confession a few weeks ago and everyone was welcome, I hope communion will be similar as I know my parents would be disappointed if they couldn’t go.”
Father Eugene Taffee, of St James’s Parish, Dublin 8, says his church will welcome a whole flock to the Communion celebrations next month.
“Covid restrictions are officially over, so we won’t be imposing any at church during communion,” he says. “I hope the capacity will be the same as before the pandemic.”
It’s a similar story for the children at Dublin 1’s Georgian Montessori School, as Jenny Boden, the sacrament preparation teacher, says everyone is welcome to the upcoming celebrations.
“There is no limit to the number of participants when the Georgian Montessori children, who are receiving communion for the first time, will attend the children’s mass at Gardiner Street Church on the first Sunday in May,” she says. “Everyone is cordially invited to be there.”
Breda Meere lives in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath with her husband Stephen and daughters Kallie and Farrah, who will be celebrating her communion this year. Breda says they are still waiting to hear how many guests they can invite to the church but plan to bring about 30 people to their home for a celebration.
“In relation to guests attending the church I think this will be communicated in a more timely manner as at the current rate of positive Covid cases I think it would be best if numbers were reduced and grandparents die They have a choice whether they want to participate or not,” she says.
“We have only invited our immediate family into the home and are fortunate to live in the country and have a great outdoor area surrounding the home for al fresco dining. We would have liked to invite friends, neighbors and the priest, but our goal is to protect the family. My mum has spent the last two Christmases alone for fear of taking Covid with her so we want her to feel safe coming to us.
“So we’re trying not to let the pandemic affect our plans, but we’re certainly more cautious and will ask everyone to have an antigen test before they come inside.”
The interior designer has booked an outside caterer and a bouncy castle to complement the procedure and says both businesses will set up and leave before guests arrive to further reduce the number of people gathering at one time. And as Covid continues to make its presence felt, they will do their utmost to keep it out of their minds.
“Farrah is really looking forward to her communion,” she says. “She will be wearing the same dress as her sister Kallie and whenever she tries it on she doesn’t want to take it off. She also has big ideas about what the celebration should look like, and while she can’t wait to see her cousins, she’s nervous about screwing up her prayers.
“But it’s about creating memories because we will always remember the lucky ones who remain embedded in our hearts. Spending time with family is so important after the last two years and I think that’s the basis of those memories. In fact, our oldest daughter was confirmed last year with just two weeks notice for an 8pm weekday ceremony followed by pizza and drinks at my in-laws’ house – and it was a really lovely evening. Whether it’s a small event or you give it your all, it will always be unforgettable as it only happens once in your life.”
Mom Vicki O’Callaghan, co-owner of BabyBoo, a sustainable e-commerce company, agrees and says she will do whatever it takes to give her daughter the best possible day.
“Ruby said she wanted to invite family and friends over and celebrate at home,” she says. “Although I’ve considered going out to avoid the mess, it’s her day so here we have it. I booked a bouncy castle and a caterer for the food. At the moment it’s probably around 20 people for lunch and I’m sure we’ll have friends to celebrate in the evening – we’re really looking forward to it.
“It’s going to be a little more low key, with good food, fun for the kids and a family celebration with our closest friends. I think the most important thing is that Ruby has the day she wants, it’s not about me or what I want – which I learned very quickly when we were choosing the dress. She is really looking forward to it and loves parties like her mum.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/is-the-era-of-the-big-communion-over-41567994.html Is the time of the great supper over?