Next up in our series of articles regarding religious ceremonies for infants and children, Pat writes about Catholic First Communion:
Eucharist is central to the faith of Catholics, often referred to as the “source” and “summit” of Christian life. Preparation for the Sacrament of the Eucharist is an exciting time. For most Catholics, making one’s “first holy communion” occurs in childhood, when a child reaches the “age of reason,” about seven years old. However, since people join the Catholic Church at many ages, it may take place much older.
This article is written for Catholic adults, to increase their understanding of the sacrament, so they might better prepare their youngsters or others for first communion.
So what is a “first communion”? It is a solemn observance of a person receiving the Eucharist for the first time. Holy Communion is the reception of the Eucharist, that is, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ found under the auspices of bread and wine. It is a personal and physical encounter with Christ.
Recall the words Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; . . . he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and . . . abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:51, 54, 56)
Jesus refers to himself as the “living bread”. This is at once fantastic and mind-boggling.
Elsewhere in the scriptures, Jesus uses similar language. At the Last Supper Jesus blesses and breaks the bread, and shares the wine with his disciples saying: “This is my body which will be given up for you… This is the cup of my blood.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
The Church teaches that the Eucharist is not merely a symbol of Christ’s body and blood, nor a representation. Truly, it is HIS BODY and HIS BLOOD. This is known as the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. To quote a few of the saints who comment on this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“That in this sacrament are the true Body of Christ and his true Blood is something that ‘cannot be apprehended by the senses,’ says St. Thomas [Aquinas], ‘but only by faith, which relies on divine authority.’ For this reason, in a commentary on Luke 22:19 (’This is my body which is given for you.’), St. Cyril says: ‘Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Savior in faith, for since he is the truth, he cannot lie.”
How does this miracle of the Eucharist happen? The Catechism teaches:
It is Christ himself, the eternal high priest of the New Covenant who, acting through the ministry of the priests, offers the Eucharistic sacrifice. And it is the same Christ, really present under the species of bread and wine, who is the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. [Par. 1410.]
By the consecration, the transubstantiation [transforming of substance] of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity. [Par. 1413.]
This is an awesome supernatural mystery.
Ponder this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, condescends, stoops, and lovingly lowers himself to humanity’s level so that we might come into relationship with Him. First, by clothing his divinity with human flesh, becoming Man, and second, by redeeming us through the sacrifice of his body and blood, and finally, by giving us Himself in a way we can understand with our senses: within the small consecrated host of bread and cup of wine. His very Presence is made present. Consuming this nourishment, Christ enters our very selves.
Eucharist means “thanksgiving.” At Mass, Christians come to give thanks before the Church’s altar or Eucharistic table. There, they recognize two simultaneous realities: the altar of sacrifice where the death of Jesus on the cross remains ever present, and the table upon which bread and wine is consecrated and served. The Mass feeds Christians with a holy meal that strengthens them supernaturally. It is a time of thanksgiving for both their redemption and their daily blessings.
Receiving communion is entering into an abiding union and fellowship with Christ and with the Church. Whenever a Catholic attends Mass and receives communion, they are professing their faith in what the Church believes, and as well as renewing their communion with Christ.
When preparing your child for first communion, teach them who Jesus is and what he did for us. He willingly suffered and died to free us from the punishment of our sins. Then, by the power of his resurrection from the dead, he made a way for us to live eternally with him someday in heaven. While we wait for heaven, Jesus invites us to unite ourselves with him through the gift of the Eucharist. He wants to bless us and strengthen us with his body and blood.
Simple suggestions for parents to prepare your child for First Communion:
- Teach about Jesus in your own words, and answer the basics: Who? What? When? Where? How? And why?
- Talk about your faith in Jesus.
- Read bible stories with your child.
- Explain the parts of the Mass, especially the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. (Jesus is “hidden” in the consecrated Host.)
- Work with your church or school. Attend the preparation classes. Volunteer!
- Find children’s bibles and books at Catholic bookstores or online.
- Learn the guidelines for proper attire for first communion celebrations at your church.
The goal for your child is developing a lifelong loving relationship with Jesus, so that he or she may joyfully receive the Eucharist at Sunday Mass and holy days for their entire life.
The celebration of first communion is a most special day. The wearing of a white dress for girls, or suit and tie for boys is traditional. After Mass, there might be a party, and some presents may be given as appropriate. But more important than the “exterior” preparations, is the “interior” preparation: making sure your child’s heart is ready to receive Jesus. That is where the true celebration takes place.
Pat Gohn is a Catholic wife, mother, and writer. Her articles and creative work in Catholic media can be found at www.patgohn.com.