BROOKLYN, N.Y. - The pandemic is forcing Monsignor John Maloney to do something he's never done in more than 40 years: turn parishioners away on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

"Have never seen a Christmas like this. Nor do I every want to see one again," Maloney said.

St. Anselm Catholic Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn holds more than 700 for its most popular Christmas services. Because of the coronavirus, it is limiting attendance to 156 people.

"This is not at all what I want. But I have to be responsible too because I don't want to be the one to tell somebody, 'Your husband or your father contacted COVID at St. Anselm's,'" Maloney said.

Every other pew is taped off. Blue X's mark where parishioners can sit at a social distance.

The church did add an extra Mass on Christmas Eve, but hundreds of congregants who did not get tickets, which were distributed on a first come, first served basis over several weeks, cannot take part in one of biggest parts of the Christmas tradition for Christians.

"We already missed Easter, which was bad enough. So we didn't want to miss Christmas,” says ticket holder Dan Texeira.

At The Episcopal Church of St. Alban the Martyr in St. Albans, Queens, Father Keith Voets will hold two Masses on Christmas Eve, and will limit capacity to 40 people instead of 150. And instead of an in-person service on Christmas Day, the church will live stream it. 

Voets said this should still be a joyous time for Christians, and that the pandemic taught him an important lesson about people.

"You see that there is so much love and care going on, that is a sign of hope to me, and what we have to do is harness that and even on other side of  COVID go with that,” he said.

Christmas services at the  Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan attract as many as 6,000 people to the famed sanctuary. But this year, the cathedral decided to be cautious, canceling in-person services in favor of livestreams.

"To have nobody here on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day shakes us out of what is for us a normal pattern , a normal way of being together and a normal way of ministering to a very large group of people," said the Rev. Canon Patrick Malloy.

Different churches are facing similar challenges this Christmas. All are hoping they'll be able to fill their pews again with congregants in the New Year.