The Celebration of First Communion and the Eclipse of Liturgical Practice

Where there are large numbers of children in a parish, Mass for First Communion is often celebrated on a Saturday rather than at a parish Mass on Sunday. Why is it that those responsible for preparing the liturgy for First Communion disregard best liturgical practice?

I recently attended a First Communion on a Saturday morning and was troubled by the lack of liturgical integrity. I admit I can be overly critical; however I fear that too many parishes insist on re-creating the liturgy for children. (See my Pray Tell post, “A Second Look at the Directory for Masses with Children.”

Here are some examples of poor liturgical practices I experienced:

  • for the Responsorial Psalm each verse was read by a different child;
  • multiple symbolic gifts were not only brought up during the Preparation of the Gifts, but this action was accompanied by an explanation of each gift;
  • a group of children was invited to come forward to sing the Our Father;
  • the communion procession began with the children, accompanied by their parents for their photo op as they received the Body of Christ;
  • the choir sang during communion, with no congregational  singing;
  • after communion, the children were again invited to come forward, and strategically placed in front of the altar. They sang a “meditation hymn” and applause followed.

My concern is that all of this “special” attention to what the children are doing neglects what is really happening. These children are celebrating a sacrament of initiation. The problem may be that there is no rite of First Communion so we make it up. However, preparers should take a cue from RCIA 241 “… Some of the neophytes also take part in the procession to the altar with the gifts.” That’s it!

Should the celebration of First Communion neglect sound liturgical principles? Should these celebrations resemble something like a recital? Or should they be sound liturgical celebrations worthy of the praise and glory of God? What do you think?

Donna Eschenauer, Ph.D. is the Associate Academic Dean at St. Joseph’s Seminary-College in Yonkers, New York.

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59 comments

  1. When I arrived at the parish where I now work as Director of Liturgy, the First Communion Masses looked like what you describe, only even more. Somehow the idea was that unless every child did something “special” they weren’t participating. There was no understanding among the teachers, nor communicated to the children and parents, about what our participation at Mass really consists of. Through the last decade, and with two wonderful pastors, we’ve gotten the Saturday Masses to look more like a weekday Mass in Easter and we’ve encouraged a few more families to choose the option of receiving First Holy Communion at one of our regular Sunday Masses. (With about 270 children receiving First Communion, it’s just not practical to have them all at Sunday Mass.)

    I think that somewhere in the past 30 or 40 years, pastors relinquished the responsibility for preparing First Communion Masses and put it in the hands of the children’s teachers. Not necessarily a bad thing, but my experience has been that teachers, even religion teachers, often approach the Mass from a pedagogical perspective, rather than a liturgical one. Practices that might make sense in a classroom or school assembly have been carried over into the Mass. And now that they’ve been cemented by a generation or two of practice, families expect the “recital” and the “photo ops.” Without a strong practice of active participation AS CONGREGATION in the Mass, it will only continue. Most of what we are called to do as participants is interior or communal (prayer, attentiveness, listening, singing, responding) and doesn’t provide the stand-out notice of the individual child that seems to be the desire of every parent for their kids.

    1. @Terri Miyamoto – comment #1:
      “Most of what we are called to do as participants is interior or communal (prayer, attentiveness, listening, singing, responding) and doesn’t provide the stand-out notice of the individual child that seems to be the desire of every parent for their kids.”

      Terri, thank you SO much for this insight! It really gets to the heart of the matter … and not just this one, but many others that we discuss at PTB. Let’s incorporate it into some of our other discussions here for a while. It could even help some of us who often have very different perspectives find common ground.

      Peace to all.

  2. I’ve seen some of these practices over the years. I found them more prevalent in the East and in large suburban parishes. The last time I was arm-twisted into a Saturday First Communion was 1991, and I don’t miss them one bit.

    They reflect the worst of what catechetical ministry brings to the Church: a graduation mentality, and the morphing of a sacrament more into the model of a school graduation. And seriously, the suburban Saturday First Communion looks a lot more like a secular commencement. So, what’s the solution?

    You’d need Fr Anthony to get someone to write a post on best practices–probably a whole series.

    “With about 270 children receiving First Communion, it’s just not practical to have them all at Sunday Mass.”

    True, Terri, but a difficult point to swallow. We all know that only a fraction of those children will return the following Sunday for “second” Communion. But just supposing all those families were struck by a Peter-on-Pentecost Holy Spirit experience and they all did return on Sunday. Suppose our bishops and pastors had to confront a reality where three times as many Catholics were coming to Mass.

  3. The best model I’ve ever seen was like what Terri describes: they didn’t have a “First Communion Mass” in a herd, but the children could make their First Communion at any Sunday mass in the Easter season. They could still dress up, and were invited to come first in the communion procession, but they were dispersed thoughout two dozen liturgies over fifty days. No more pseudo-graduation. More importantly, they were communing with the community, instead of on stage in front of it.

    Of course, on that far-far-off day when initiation is reunified, the whole phenomenon of First Communion masses will simply vanish.

  4. This type of ceremony is still a vast improvement over my pre-Vatican II experience. We were drilled more than a Marine honor guard and were terrified of making a mistake. I even recall being instructed to sit 18″ apart in the pews. When I did receive Communion, I was surprised that I didn’t have an overwhelming spiritual experience. I ended the day with my first migraine!

    The topic raises two points worthy of discussion. Who should determine liturgy; professionals under the guidance of theologians or the people actually participating? A related point is who should be allowed access to the sacraments? Should we require family attendance beforehand to ensure those “Second Communions”? Or should we accept that just as not all Christians live in contemplative monasteries, some Christians will only show up for Christmas, Easter and special occasions? (This seems to be a human trait, since my understanding is that synogogues and mosques also see various rates of devotion.)

    The disapproval of families overspending on the celebration of the event is hardly confined to First Communion. It also is applied increasingly to La Quinceañera, prom night and weddings. I am uncertain where I stand on this. I do think, however, that a hierarchy dressed in silk and brocade is hardly in a position to chide the laity.

  5. The problem begins with the nomenclature: First Communion. What the Church is doing is Welcoming these children to the Lord’s Table. The focus should be on the inclusive nature of this event. First Communion still carries the overtones of sacrament as thing (to be received) rather than on action of the church.

    1. @Alexander Larkin – comment #5:
      Language is so important. Look closely at some of the posts here – some refer to “making” First Communion.” We have to get people used to the language of celebration – a child “celebrates” their First Communion.

  6. Our parish does a good job preparing our First Communions and Confirmation liturgies. The fault is not in the liturgies. We need to have an honest dialogue about how we initiate our children. By following the school academic model, there is no way to avoid the ‘feel’ of graduation because the model supports a curriculum that eventually leads to the object: the end. Even many parishes squeeze their RCIA process into a school year model…starting in September, covering the required ‘topics,’ and then graduation at the Easter Vigil. I believe the true vision of the RCIA is to use Lectionary-based catechesis that leads one’s heart to a conversion. Utilizing a year-round model would allow one to internalize Jesus’ gospel message of loving God first and loving your neighbor next while covering all the major doctrines of the church throughout a FULL year of the process. THIS is the model we should be using to initiate our young people. Is it challenging? You bet. That’s why a national dialogue is needed.

    1. @Louise Grant – comment #6:
      Just on a practical level – one reason Faith Formation follows the academic calender is the desperate attempt to get families to bring their children in for catechesis. It’s difficult enough to work class times around sports schedules and school nights without tossing summer vacation into the mix. I suspect the same applies for RCIA. The baptism of adults at the Easter Vigil is a welcome event, but I suspect it would be difficult to get people to attend classes before September.
      Of course, as long as we consider typical catechesis to be an academic process, we will end up following academic customs.

      1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #9:
        At the parish where I work in adult formation, we have had year-round RCIA for much longer than I have been here. It helps that I have team members for each stage- why make an Inquirer wait for fall, if they are interested in March? I’ve never had people reluctant to start (a new session (never called ‘classes’) with candidates will begin next week) before September. My guess is that some parish directors want to be able to take summers off from the process, or don’t have sufficient team members to spread the responsibilities?

        In a related note, I was saddened to read on “Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray” of the demise of the NA Forum on the Catechumenate … I wonder what will fill the void?

    2. @Louise Grant – comment #6:
      The way to get rid of a school-year mentality is to focus on the liturgical seasons. Many associate First Communions with May. When I worked in a parish many were often surprised when we scheduled First Communion in April – it took a while for them to make the connection with the Easter Season.
      The same is true for the RCIA – when I was in pastoral work we had the dismissal for the catechumens every Sunday during the summer months. The catechumens learned that we don’t vacation from Sunday Mass.

  7. This is one of the most troubling matters, and as Christian describes above, leads to graduation mentality – or as I like to think of it, to “Sacramental Passport” stamp mentality.

    The best liturgies that I have seen are those in which the children are fully integrated into the celebration… not as the special ones, but as those who are now at the Table of the Lord with the community.

  8. At our parish in Upstate NY the families may choose from any of the regular Sunday Masses over two weekends. I start our preparation with a parent session where I remind them that their children are making their first Communion, not their first Eucharist, and in reality they should be celebrating and praying Eucharistic prayer with the community each week. When the parents ask if their children can do the readings I remind them that we have trained liturgical ministers who lector and when we have a guest of honor at a dinner we would never dream of asking them to be “on the spot” like that. I remind them that we as a parish are excited to be serving the children through ministry.

    We have also done away with the procession, and instead before Mass we introduce our young friends as they are seated. After that we have our welcoming and processional.

    Most importantly after they receive they get in the mail a thank you note for celebrating with us that includes our hopes to see them again next Sunday. While that’s not a liturgical decision, it keeps the focus on the FIRST part of first Communion.

  9. In my parish’s recent memory, First Communion liturgies were approaching three hours with all of the added “special” processions, “special” readings, “special” songs, etc. Reminds me of SNL’s church lady, “well, isn’t that special?!?”

    Over the past two years, I have been slowly but steadily pressing for reform. First year: no more processions around and around the altar or class songs performed after Communion. Second year, tried (and failed!) to organize seating by family rather than by class, I’ll try again next year. I did manage this year to have congregational singing during Communion rather than instrumental music so everyone could “focus on the children.” Future reforms will include ending the idea that every one of the 54 children need a “special” job (a reading, a petition, carrying up everything but the kitchen sink in the presentation of gifts, dressing the altar, scores of banners in the processions, etc.)

    The inertia against change is powerful. We have taught a generation of Catholics that all of these accretions are what make the day “special,” so to remove any of them makes it feel less special. From my perspective, it’s all icing and no cake.

    These practices have grown up in a vacuum of thorough catechesis. If your Eucharistic theology consists of what you remember of the Baltimore Catechism from 50 years ago, then all of the emphasis goes into fancying up the Mass and misplaced piety.

  10. On a related note: How many of our teachers and catechists still instruct the students not to chew the host, because chewing up Jesus with your teeth is disrespectful? I was shocked to learn that’s what students in our parish are taught. When I questioned the point, I was told this is what they have always been taught, “that’s what the sisters always told us.” This is a central point in our student’s formation for First Communion. My skepticism was dismissed with, “well, you we taught by lay people, not by nuns, so you didn’t learn the right way.” I don’t remember Frank Quinn covering that in my Eucharist course, and unfortunately I can no longer call him up to ask!

    1. @Scott Pluff – comment #10:
      Plus 1, Scott – well said.

      May I add other tensions and *well, we’ve never done it that way* moments:
      – constant, annual argument between CCD and Catholic school First Communion classes…..should they be integrated in preparation and in the actual ceremony? Most years – there is a CCD Saturday morning mass and an afternoon Saturday mass for catholic school.
      – in the 1980’s remember a comprehensive parish program to move away from School First Communion Class masses; focus more on family, on-going journey with reception, de-emphasize cost, dressing in white, etc. and educating that eucharist is a community and family action – not a school object. This was a complicated project since it involved english CCD/School and spanish CCD/School.

      Now in 2013, none of that approach continues – what Scott describes prevails – parents/family/school want to dress up; make the sacrament just another childhood accomplishemnt like winning the soccer tournament, etc. If anything, IMO, it points up that the VII understanding of sacraments, eucharist, and liturgy has regressed rather than developed.

  11. These are some of the many reasons why the ancient model of baptism, chrismation, and communion need to be reestablished in the Western Church…

    Aside from being theologically sound (IMO) and a much more positive means of incorporating the newest members of the Body of Christ into the life of the Church, it allows a special day for the individual and their family that celebrates something complete – the initiation into the Church founded by Christ.

    Rob+

  12. What I have been struck by in the First Communion celebrations around my Diocese this year, is how little of it is about Communion and the practice of receiving Communion. When I was a child we practiced the night before with an unconsecrated host and some unconsecrated wine. But now a few parishes in my Diocese have moved to the priest giving First Communion via intinction so the children won’t make faces!

    But at least those children are receiving the wine. While the Diocesan norm is for the cup to offered at all Sunday Masses and Sacraments such as First Communion and Confirmation (which often take place apart from Sunday), several of our parishes have decided that “it’s too much” or “not appropriate” for the children. So they only give the children the consecrated host, usually only from the priest, and THEN the deacon and other ministers come down and give the “regular” communion to everyone else.

    Either we are initiating these children into the normative practice of reception of Holy Communion, or we’re not. If the parish does not give communion via intinction each week, and if it does offer the cup to the others who are present, then we should not be starting our children off with a practice that deviates from the norm. It is simply incongruous. The fact that the actual reception of Holy Communion at First Communion is allowed to be dictated outside of good liturgical practice speaks to how far removed this “event” is from the actual sacrament.

  13. I read these comments and think that while the concerns are legitimate in theory, the practices aren’t all that new, and it’s not just in the US. Some years ago my wife and I arrived at a hotel in Ireland on a Saturday afternoon. There was a huge party going on in the restaurant. It was so large I assumed it was a wedding. Nope. Turned out to be a First Communion Party on a Saturday with a huge group of kids. Then there was the story Frank McCourt told about his in Angela’s Ashes which mirrored what I had seen in the 1990s. Maybe we should just blame the Irish. 😉

  14. I believe that with cooperative planning, we can create liturgies that are prayerful, inclusive and helpful for the entire congregation. In the parishes where I was the presiding priest, we offered the parents a choice of three masses on two weekends. Some were more popular, but we could keep the participants to about 20 or so.

    Again, with creative planning, we could allow each student to do something specific even if it involved bringing a baptism candle in the expanded offertory procession. For me that gift was important – tying First Communion to Baptism.

    At communion time I assigned 5 distributors to the back of Church while I could concentrate on the first communion children. My apologies to G.I.R.M.

    At least once at every mass I urged all the other parishioners to do a little day-dreaming back to their own first communion and reflect on their own faith growth and present practice.

    I believe the liturgy can and needs to be a good prayer. Let quality people help create the prayer.

    Rev. Richard L. Allen
    Retired, Appleton, WI

    1. @Rev. Richard L. Allen – comment #16:

      “I believe that with cooperative planning, we can create liturgies that are prayerful, inclusive and helpful for the entire congregation.”

      Fr. Richard I believe you hit the proverbial “nail on the head”!

  15. In the parish I have served for 16 years (and in my previous parish of 15 years service), candidates for first sacraments are prepared by their parents. The Catholic school and RE curriculum supported this process (at least for second graders), but doing it this way allowed us to provide additional catechesis for parents at the same time. Following the educational principal of readiness, each family decides when their child is ready for first penance and first communion. First communions are scheduled for all the Sundays of Easter so that each child can experience this initiation sacrament among the people with whom they regularly worship. There may be as many as four children at a given Mass but sometimes there’s only one or two. The celebration is “special” for each child not because they are a member of a First Communion Class, but because they are members of a particular family and a particular Mass community. After communion, the children come and stand in the sanctuary where each is presented a First Communion certificate. I ask the children if this is a happy day for them (they always say “yes”). Then I ask the people if they are happy for these children and they respond with a warm applause. At the end of Mass the children process out and stand in front of the baptistry where the people congratulate them on the way out. In more recent years, we have asked the parents to give an important focus during preparation for participating in the prayers and music of the Mass. It’s great to see the first communicants participating so fully in the 1st Communion Mass.

  16. As a First Communion teacher in a Catholic school I participated in many different liturgical celebrations; however, the most meaningful interpretation was in Maui, Hawaii. The families ( grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents ) all gathered together and processed into the church. They all sang hymns of praise during the procession in and throughout the Mass. The first communicants received the host and chalice followed by their particular family members. Everyone in the church sang and it was truly a celebration of faith. There was no doubt that each person recognized that through baptism we become members of the body of Christ and His holy church. Through Eucharist we share that membership as one family united in Christ!
    After the Mass a big party was held in the church hall and everyone was invited. The food was prepared and donated by parishioners who greeted the new communicants with hugs and blessings .
    There were no lavish displays of dresses and photos were taken afterwards with the parish priest who availed himself throughout the party. I believe that Pope Francis would have loved it as much as we did!

  17. The liturgist in me certainly resonates with many of the comments listed above. In terms of practice in the parish this is a difficult issue to deal with on a pastoral level. Some of “issues” mentioned above have been with us since long before Vatican II and are perpetuated by well-intentioned parents and grandparents. That combined with the fact that, buy in large, the parents of today’s first communicants are largely uncatechized themselves and only a minority attend Mass as a family on regular basis gives them no reference as to what a “normative” Sunday Eucharistic celebration is like in any given parish.

    The situation in the parish where I minister is better than some of the situations mentioned above. We are a medium sized suburban parish in an aging first-ring suburb of Minneapolis. Our first communion class is generally only 30-40 children. Yesterday, 31 children received their first communion at the parish 10:30 Mass. All of the liturgical ministers were from the normal “rotation” and the musical leadership was provided by the combination of 2 choirs that normally rotate singing at this Mass.

    I will make two comments regarding music. First of all, we had a strong choir present and a nearly full church (the church seats 800). The music selected should have been familiar to most Catholics and many protestants. Congregational singing was lukewarm to say the least. Secondly, I gave up on congregational singing during the communion procession for first communion years ago for one simple reason: the congregation would start talking. Now I typically program a large-scale gospel or “world music” choral anthem that keeps people’s attention. I realize full well that to most people we were “performing” during communion, but at least they weren’t TALKING! Yesterday we did Byron J. Smith’s “Worthy to be Praised”, last year was Roger Emerson’s arrangement of “O Sifuni Mungu”. Others have included Robert Ray’s “He Never Failed me Yet” and Paul Caldwell’s “John the Revelator”.

  18. continued….

    I also find it immensely curious that while many of the external trappings of a “traditional” first communion are kept (white dresses and veils for the girls, white shirts and ties for boys), there is very little sense of reverence displayed by the families before and after Mass. The tabernacle is present and clearly visible in our church (as per diocesan norm here) and normally our Sunday assembly is pretty subdued before Mass. Yesterday it was deafeningly raucous. I’ve witnessed baseball stadiums come to attention more quickly and completely for the National Anthem than our assembly did yesterday for the cantor’s greeting and welcome. One thing I do before Mass to at least make it sound a little bit like “church” is to play a 6 -7 minute organ prelude on nearly full organ. They still talk over it!

  19. WOW! this was a great discussion. Thanks everyone. My pastoral experience prompts the following:
    Anyone charged with the responsibility of preparing liturgies MUST be educated.
    In large parishes maybe you cannot bring all the children to a Sunday Mass – but you can bring some. Give the option and explain why it is a good option.
    Parent education is key.

  20. Best thing going on out here in a variety of parishes in the Seattle area: everyone celebrating first communion wears albs. The move was liturgical (connection to baptism), equality (no girls vs boys), and especially based on social justice (the cost of the clothing never to be worn again). Explained early and up front 10 years ago, every parent since that has been on board.
    Albs! That’s my recommendation: albs! It was the first domino in a long string of helped return first communion to a more liturgical practice.

    A few other changes which have worked well:
    * No special seating for the children, but rather they sit with their families (although they process in without their families).
    * No special people to give them communion, they just receive with their families as part of the regular communion procession: priest, deacon or lay eucharistic ministers. They automatically removes the ability of anyone to try and take photos.
    * I’m not that cold, we work in “cute factors” as well. Since it’s during the Easter season, we invite them to gather around the font to “help” with the sprinkling rite and sign themselves. They sing a song after communion as a group, they have decorations (banners) hung up around the church ahead of time. They even help “bake bread” for communion (with back-up bread ready, because it never actually turns out).

    1. @Chuck Middendorf – comment #27:
      especially based on social justice (the cost of the clothing never to be worn again)
      My mother made a First Communion dress for her oldest daughter, which was subsequently worn by her other three daughters, as well as by the five daughters of the oldest daughter. She approximates the cost of the fabric (at the time) to less than $5.

      I realize not everyone can do that, but the clothing need not be never worn again.

  21. Might it not be the case that the perceived need to ‘give every child something to do’ at First HC Mass is consistent with a common contemporary understanding of ‘full, conscious and active participation’ in the Liturgy?

    Alan Griffiths

  22. Umm…
    I seem to recall that someone, somewhere, was reputed recently to have said that the carnival was over. These sorts of things must surely have been what he had in mind. (Assuming that it really was said!)

  23. I see no problem in having children’s First Holy Communion to be what is considered a traditional First Communion Mass with all the children processing in, girls in white and veil if they wish, boys in dark pants and white shirt and tie and the focus on their First Holy Communion and at a special “Sunday” Mass. This past Sunday ours replaced our monthly 2:00 PM Latin Mass, but it was a Sunday Mass at an odd time and there were 55 kids and the Church was packed with family and friends, grandparents coming in from distant places. The parents knew each other and a combination of school and CCD families and children. We have several catechetical sessions with parents and children from both CCD and the school, so they know each other and no distinction is made in terms of where the children go to school.

    The children do not plan the Mass, they don’t read the Scriptures, they don’t bring up a hoard of nonsensical “gifts” at the procession of offerings and they don’t have their own song after Holy Communion and they don’t read the Universal Prayers. We have parents or relatives of the children do all that and the deacon prays the Intercessions. All the First Communicants do is process in and out, participate in the Mass as they normally do and receive Holy Communion for the first time–that’s it.

    It was a sung Mass, incense and bells and nothing “cute” was done. We have a professional photographer and do not allow additional photography during the Mass and strictly so during the children’s first communion in which each child comes up the steps of the sanctuary to receive Holy Communion and the photographer takes the picture of each child doing so. Then we have a parish reception with substantial food in our social hall to which most go.

    This Mass was just like our normal Sunday Masses just at a different time. We’re high Church with the Ordinary Form, but encourage participation in the singing of the parts of the Mass, but the whole Mass was chanted from the start of the Sign of the Cross to the Final Blessing and dismissal, just as we do at our principal Masses on Sunday normally.

    When I got here 10 years ago, the focus was not on each child’s first Communion, but on who would read the Scriptures and intercessions with numerous children doing so, who would read the introductory welcome to the Mass, who would bring up the gifts. The biggest worry was the post Communion Communicant’s song often “signed” in a cute way by the kids. All these superfluous things became the focus and the actual Mass and Holy Communion lost in the shuffle. That’s all reformed now and discarded.

    And there was NO APPLAUSE, at any time for the First Communicants or anyone else!

    This is a classic example of the “reform of the reform of First Holy Communion” and we went back to the classic First Holy Communion and in a solemn, classical way. It makes all the difference in the world. Next Sunday, God willing and parents willing, these children will sit with their families and each Sunday after that to participate in the Mass and process to receive Holy Communion with everyone else. But their First Holy Communion was I hope an extraordinary event that they will remember for the rest of their lives as they prepare for their Last Holy Communion.

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #31:
      The children do not plan the Mass,
      they don’t read the Scriptures,
      they don’t bring up a hoard of nonsensical “gifts” at the procession of offerings and
      they don’t have their own song after Holy Communion and
      they don’t read the Universal Prayers.
      All the First Communicants do is process in and out…”–that’s it.”
      This is a classic example of the “reform of the reform…

      and Father Allen ends by saying:
      “…First Holy Communion was I hope an extraordinary event that they will remember for the rest of their lives…”

      I would be laughing if it wasn’t so sad.

      1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #33:
        Dale, you left out in your litany of what I wrote, the reason why they processed in and out, to participate actively (verbally and otherwise) in the Mass and receive their First Holy Communion. Do you think the other things, (as so many evidently do) are more important?

      2. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #41:
        No, they are not “more important” they are in addition to the above. And I never said it was more important.

        Processing “in and out” in order to verbally respond to the parts of the Mass makes it, as you stated “..an extraordinary event that they will remember for the rest of their lives…”?
        I received first communion in preVatican II. We processed in and out, don’t remember much else except for the processing which goes to show that kids remember parts of the Mass that they take part in.
        To make it truly memorable and something they will remember then have them participate in the Mass, it can be done with good planning and practice. It’s not about what is easiest for you. To relegate them to process in and out and, as you stated “that’s it” will probably be the only thing they will remember, and that’s it.

      3. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #44:
        First Communion as with Baptism and Confirmation is but one day, as is a wedding, living the faith and attending Mass each Sunday or more frequently is the life-long vocation of a Catholic. Our first Communion for this year is over (for the 2nd graders, we catch others up throughout the year). Hopefully their Mass attendance isn’t.

  24. A side note: I am troubled that so many responses referred to “CCD.” This is antiquated and should not, in my view, be used to refer to parish catechetical programs. The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine certainly had its place in the history of catechesis; however, it no longer exists, and use of the term perpetuates the Catholic School – non Catholic School divide. The aim is to create a parish mentality among families of all these children.

    1. @Donna Eschenauer – comment #35:
      Donna – agreed but chose to use that term because that is the term used today in our diocese by our bishops, etc. Yes, we have lots to do – this actually may be part of the earlier blog about *cultural catholics*….yep, CCD and what it represents is part of that mentality.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #38:
        I would suggest that the term “CCD” has become a generic term like Kleenex or Scotch Tape or Xerox – most people no longer use it to reference a particular program but rather apply it to the Religious Ed/a/k/a/ Faith Formation program offered by their parish to catechise children.

      2. @Brigid Rauch – comment #39:
        In our parish, we call it PREP and have done so for the past 10 years, (Parish Religious Education Program). I dislike the term because many even in the parish don’t know what the heck PREP is but stick with it as other parishes use other terms. I like CCD and used it here because most people understand it in the generic term, such as “Kleenex, Scotch Tape and Xerox, not to mention Frigidaire, Aspirin and now iPhone. How many here would know what the heck PREP is?

  25. One of the most effective ways to ensure good liturgical practice for first sacraments is collaboration among religious educators, liturgists, and music directors. In my pastoral experience this was key!

  26. Speaking of timing…

    I was a bit of an oddball…

    When I was baptized (1987) I was 7 years old. I was in parochial school being formed for first communion when it was disclosed by my custodial grandmother that I had not been baptized. The parish priest wanted to baptize me at the same Mass at which I would be making my first communion, but being shy, and not being liturgically formed, I turned that option down and asked to be baptized at the Vigil instead… except that I was not allowed to receive Communion that night because I was making my first communion in the morning.

    If I had it to do over, and knew at 7 what I know now, I would have insisted on baptism and communion at the Vigil, or would have deferred my baptism until the morning.

    Speaking of timing, a local LCMS Church of my acquaintance admits 5th graders to the Table on Holy Thursday each year. I must confess that I find Holy Thursday a more appropriate First Communion day for Churches which practice deferred Communion, than waiting until some arbitrary day in the middle of the Easter Season.

    Also, when I was growing up, First Communion was almost always on Easter Sunday… what happened to that practice? The same parish I made my first Communion in in 1987 (same pastor, too!) had first communion this past Sunday – the first in May. That one left me scratching my head.

    Rob+

  27. I think a far bigger problem than the actual ceremony is the common requirement that 7 year olds go to confession before making their First Communion. I think this is done because most parents would not bring their children to Penance unless it was folded into the preparation for First Communion. Talk about having to get your ticket punched! How well do 7 year olds understand this sacrament? How many 7 year olds are guilty of mortal sin? How much does this practice confuse understanding of both sacraments?

  28. While I share the lament of pastoral ministers, catechists, clergy, and laypersons over the inevitability that some, if not many, children and their parents will not return to church the Sunday after the first Holy Communion, it’s important to look at this phenomenon through the lens of postchristianity.

    In Europe, where postchristianity is more prominent at the moment, only a relative minority of Christians consistently attend Mass or service on Sunday. In some countries and regions such as Scandinavia, consistent Sunday attendance is in the low single digits. However, even in the most advanced postchristian nations secular persons will go through the life cycle events at a much higher percentage. Christian liturgies, then, are experienced as mileposts for significant moments in a person’s life. In that way, a mostly secular society can selectively connect with a more observant Christian past while avoiding a greatly diminished spectre of divisive sectarianism which has historically occasioned persecution and violence in Europe.

    I would not be discouraged by the apparent inevitability that the first Holy Communion as a moment of evangelization will not prove quite fruitful. The postchristian phenomenon contains many more aspects than just a general alienation from Christian creed and liturgy or a replacement of Christian doctrine with secular humanism. This hydra cannot be conquered with any one evangelistic method.

  29. I had first communion “late” for various reasons, meaning I was probably 11 or so. It was on Easter Sunday and nothing “cute” was done, but my brother and I were allowed to bring up the gifts. I’ll always remember that day because it was the first time I ever received Holy Communion, and I will always remember that wonderful priest too. I have enough school memories of singing cute songs and having to do performances, but only one first communion. Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for the first time as part of a parish community should be the primary memory a child has – not how many songs or readings they had to perform for parents and grandparents.

  30. I couldn’t tell you who I received the Eucharist from… pastor, associate pastor, or Eucharistic minister. I also don’t think we processed in, but I could be wrong. The two things I remember about that day was being privileged to receive Christ sacramentally, and being told in the homily that this was the beginning of a lifetime of Communions in which we would draw ever-closer to the Lord. I don’t remember if anyone from our first communion group read anything, prayed anything, etc. I just remember Jesus. That’s as it should be.

    I remember far more about my baptism, as it was Easter Vigil, and I was amped to get up to the font and profess my faith.

  31. My experience of a First Communion was on the opposite end of the one that started his post. I was visiting a parish which had scheduled a Sunday First Communion; there were five kids. What was not there was a) a priest who knew their names, or was willing to forgo his (surely canned) sermon on heaven for the sake of something that spoke to the children; b) any eucharistic wine; c) any pastoral sense for the sometimes blended or broken families that gather for such an event in the life of a child (instead, all married couples were asked to stand at the end of Mass, leaving at least the parents of one of the five children uncomfortably seated).
    It was all very sad! And yet in this ailing parish, with an elderly priest, and an elderly woman who prepares the few kids that still come for communion, nothing short of a influx of vibrant, committed, informed, eager, faith-filled Catholics (with ample time to commit to their parish) can bring real change, I am afraid…

  32. Confession for second graders is a terrible practice that may in fact malform children’s understanding of sin and repentance. What they confess are the common activities of children, not sins they can repent of. What child is going to stop fighting with his siblings or disobeying her parents? It should be moved to 4th grade. Kids that age are beginning to develop a conscience. What we do now is to induce them to make a 1st confession so they can get a 1 st communion. It’s not a spiritually healthy practice.

    1. @Jack Feehily – comment #52:
      I’ve made my peace with it.

      However, as a person grows and matures, their sense of sin develops as well. I’ve seen this in my own daughter. The problem isn’t that catechesis/praxis has shifted from 4th/5th grade to 2nd. It’s that we abandoned preparing older kids for the sacrament.

      It’s one thing to have a second-grade understanding of the Eucharist. There, at least, there’s a prayer of good homiletics bringing people along into adulthood.

      With reconciliation, there’s the predominance of form II in school and RE settings through grade school and even into college. Then nothing. Catechesis on Penance is as impoverished as it was thirty or seventy years ago. We’ve just replaced one bad model for another.

  33. And, may I add, so many priests’ insistence on using the confiteor every Sunday, has been interpreted by countless Catholics as an alternative to Penance. I never use it and I hear lots of confessions. Our seasonal penance rites are also packed

  34. Glad to see this conversation going on. I would like to suggest that the “Instruction on the Eucharist” (Salvatori Eucharista?) given by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2004 be required reading for those responsible for preparing young people for First Communion. It does address a few concerns mentioned: penance before, how to receive, etc.
    Personally, as a DRE for 30+ years, I have come to appreciate the need for parents to be involved in the process of preparation, the desire to get rid of the frills. Our parish children wear robes: a) to connect them to their baptism; b) to show that it is OUR parish children celebrating, not just your child or their child; and c) to eliminate the need to spend lots of money on clothing that may not be worn again and to eliminate competition as to who has the best dress. The parish I currently serve has a parish school, but there is a preparation program (over and above what is taught in school or religious ed.) for all our parish children & their parents. This program requires parents to participate in several events with their children. Some of the decisions regarding the Mass are made by the pastor at the time, but the children no longer do the readings, (There are 2 children chosen to do the universal prayer though.) & there are no cute songs or performances. Photography is prohibited during Mass to maintain reverence & respect but the pastor is available for photos with the children after Mass. For many years we had three or four of the regularly scheduled Masses with a portion of the children celebrating at each Mass. Our newest pastor has decided to have the children celebrate at a specially scheduled Mass early Sunday afternoon. I was pleasantly surprised how attentive and well behaved the children were sitting together (as opposed to sitting with their families as we have done the last several years). Bottom line: the parents along with their children need to be catechized and to participate in the preparation program.

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