My New Book: Donna M. Eschenauer; First Communion Liturgies: Preparing First-Class First Celebrations

First Communion 5.375 x 8.25 Apprvd 2.inddPray Tell continues with this series, “My New Book,” in which authors answer a few questions about their recently-released book.

What’s the point of your book, in ten words or less?

This book explores the practice of First Communion liturgies.

What do you think is the most interesting thing you say in the book?

One of the most profound statements that I make in the book is “First Communion liturgies that move children toward “enchantment not entertainment” are possible… (3). I say this mainly because ritual prayer is a formative experience that contributes to the religious development of the child. Therefore, we cannot afford to expose children to liturgy that fosters an eclipse of good liturgical principles.

What’s the most controversial thing you say in it?

The chapters of the book are an attempt to “stir up” a deeper consciousness regarding how we prepare and celebrate First Communion. Many “out of place” practices or so-called “adaptations,” have taught over two generations that these “adaptations” are acceptable and these are what make the day a special event. Clearly, there are deeper issues at stake, for example, in my experience, when we do not adhere to including these “out of place” practices some people protest that First Communion is not special. This being the case, it is evident that some do not realize that the celebration of the Eucharist is the most special activity of the Catholic Christian community.

Why should I buy your book? Who do you hope will buy it?

You should buy this book because through reflective examination it offers the reader the opportunity to discover or re-discover one of the most important moments in the life of Catholic Christian children. This short book provides you with an overview of liturgy with children in general, a brief historical perspective of the developing patterns for celebrating First Communion, the theological context of First Communion, educational practices that will enhance the celebration of First Communion, and practical pastoral ideas that developed from my actual pastoral experience.

It is my hope that bishops, pastors, priests, diocesan catechetical office personnel, and all those engaged in pastoral ministry, including the educational ministry of the Church, i.e. catechetical, which includes Catholic Schools, music ministers, liturgy committees, and volunteers involved with teaching and preparing the liturgy for First Communion will buy this book and be open to it’s message. 

Who will like your book? Who won’t?

Those who are knowledgeable about appropriate liturgical principles and those who are frustrated with the manner in which many parishes celebrate First Communion will love this book. In addition, pastoral ministers and religious educators who are open to exploring an alternative way of doing things will like this book. In other words, those who are not caught up in the risky mantra – “we always did it this way” will ponder my words with enthusiasm.

Those who are caught up in high emotion and sentimentality often resist change. Those not aware of the importance and significance of appropriate liturgical principles for every parish liturgical celebration and who are under the impression that we need to do something “special” for children, not recognizing that the celebration of the Eucharist is the most special thing we do as Catholic Christians, will most likely not embrace the proposal for honoring the integrity of liturgical principles when celebrating First Communion.

What do you hope might change in the church because of your book?

It is my hope that a radical change in catechesis both toward the celebration of First Communion and beyond will happen. For example, emphasis needs to be placed on the reality of the child’s initiation into the life of the Church rather than putting our energies into useless practices and gimmicks that do not have long-term effects. This change is nothing new. It reflects all of our recent catechetical documents, which places liturgy at the center of catechesis and gives strong precedence for adult faith formation and family catechesis. In order for this to happen on the parish level pastoral education is key. It is my humble opinion that no one should hold a parish leadership position without graduate studies in theology, which includes liturgical education. In addition, demonstration of the ability to implement good, effective pastoral practice is also vital.

Anything that didn’t survive the chopping block? Anything you didn’t include that might be in your next book?

The original purpose of the book was that it be pastoral and concise rather than an overwhelming exposition of the topic; however, since the book’s publication I have had the opportunity to speak to various groups on this topic. In doing so I have discovered that there might be a need to take a step back and expand on the first chapter, “Liturgy with Children.” I say this because inevitably many people still persist in referring to “children’s liturgy” and fall into the trap of wanting to showcase children rather than include them and teach them how to pray the prayer of the Church as members of the assembly.      

Donna Eschenauer’s book can be purchased through Liturgical Press.

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14 comments

  1. “no one should hold a parish leadership position without graduate studies in theology, which includes liturgical education.”

    We simply can’t afford this. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if we could go out and hire a bunch of MDiv grads to run our programs, but we just can’t afford it. And good MDiv programs have small class sizes because they need them to do proper formation work with their candidates for ministry, so there aren’t enough to go around all the parishes even if we could afford them.

    I think we need more creativity about how formation for leadership can happen in a parish setting (particularly in financially-poorer parishes) that looks beyond the academy.

    1. @Adam Booth, CSC – comment #1:
      I am certainly aware of financial constraints in parishes! However, alternative programs for leadership formation are in place in many dioceses; however, in my experience they are not enough for someone serving on a pastoral staff. They can serve volunteer ministry well.
      Historically the DRE, for example, was a professional educator with expertise in teaching religion. I fear we have reduced this role significantly. For over twenty years, wherever I go I hear complains about how ill prepared children are for sacraments, or they don’t know anything about their faith. With all due respect to well intentioned folks this is due in part to those in leadership positions who are not educated theologically or pastorally. Educated and formed ministers, on all levels is, in my view, for the life of the Church.

  2. Donna, congratulations on this wonderful and much-needed book. The good will generated around the event of first Communion is enormous, and it’s so important to both model good liturgy and channel that good will in directions that will be fruitful for the future engagement of the child.

    When First Communion loses its grounding in a healthy vision of sacrament and community, and becomes a “Kodak moment” or an occasion to “watch the children perform” everyone misses out. Good for you that you call attention to the better way. If I’m not mistaken, some of your ideas about this appeared a few years ago on Pray Tell!

  3. Rita is right, and it’s worth pointing out here that that the book has its roots in a Pray Tell post by Donna almost two years ago. When we (here at Liturgical Press) saw the post and the interesting discussion it generated, we approached Donna about doing the book. Happily, she accepted the challenge and the result is a quite helpful and insightful resource!

  4. Excellent resource, thank you for taking on this subject. I’ve found that the absence of solid catechetical formation, usually flowing from the absence of trained catechists, creates a vacuum which people sense must be filled with “something.” The “somethings” they choose are elaborate processions, special songs and poems performed by the children, days off school, fancy class breakfasts, a shower of gifts, and other peripheral things. It’s a hard sell to take away these peripheral things, because then it’s seen as just another boring day in the boring church like every boring Sunday.

  5. As a priest who survived making the First Communion Mass at his large parish into an actual Mass from the all too familiar play, recital, and pantomime, along with felt names everywhere, I think that Donna’s book is a welcome addition to pastoral and liturgical planning. Bravo!

    However this book (and it’s practical implementation) is not for the faint of heart, you’ll see the change in the kids in year two or three, especially if they are participating in the Eucharist weekly via the catechetical program.

  6. I feel kind of lucky that I received first Communion a few years “late” because we moved around so much (you’d be surprised how little some priests will care that you haven’t had first communion yet). It was just an Easter Day Mass, and my biggest memory is actually receiving the Blessed Sacrament.

    1. @Jack Wayne – comment #8:

      Hi, Jack, I’ve observed that there are children who “miss” their 2nd grade sacramental milestone, often for reasons of family instability. When that happens, parents are perplexed; they know it will be a tough sell to their 4th or 5th grader to go through sacramental prep with a bunch of 2nd graders; and RCIA seems daunting (if the parish will even accept a 10 year old in RCIA). The other option is private instruction. Our parish will offer it; I haven’t heard of any that won’t, but there have to be some out there. I think it’s a real pastoral dilemma.

      1. @Jim Pauwels – comment #11:
        You raise an important point. In my experience, when we had children in older grades presented for First Communion I mainstreamed them in class with their peers where they would learn about Jesus Christ, the Church, sacraments, scripture, etc. and provided additional sacramental information for their parents, and for them as needed. I avoided any idea of what many refer to as “catch-up class.”
        It would be important to note that the RCIA should not be used for this purpose.
        And, most importantly, this raises a deeper question – should sacraments be a matter of age or grade level?

  7. As a pastoral musician who collaborated with Donna on First Eucharist celebrations at our parish for many years, I am delighted to see that this book has been published. Donna has the ability to identify some of the deepest issues that face our church today with regards to the catechesis of children, and certainly First Communion Liturgies are one important aspect of this catechesis. Hopefully Donna will put together her thoughts about what Sunday Liturgy with Children can really be like; a workshop we did together many years ago revealed that she has many wonderful insights in this area as well.

  8. I want to thank everyone for the conversation around my new book. May I offer this reflection in light of what I have tried to convey through my work. In the Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis writes,“Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow . . .” (4). In this same document, the pope calls us to something new, he writes, “I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are. Mere administration can no longer be enough. Throughout the world, let us be ‘permanently in a state of mission” (14).

  9. @Jim Pauwels

    We recieved one-on-one instruction from an elderly priest. Was it perfect? No, but at least he took the time to get us caught up. I have no idea where he stood liturgically and theologically (at 11, I wasn’t really thinking about that stuff), but he still ranks up there as my all time favorite priest because he made an extra effort.

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