The Celebration of First Communion

The months of May and June see many celebrations of First Communion for children around the US and the world.  While I was visiting friends out of town, I went to Mass with them on the Feast of Corpus Christi during which the parish welcomed six children to the table for the first time. As I cantored the psalm (116), the children came forward and engaged in movement and gesture, giving a kinesthetic sense to the sung verses of Scripture.  As the children brought the gifts forward, their actions were timed to the verses of Michael Joncas’ lovely “We Come to Your Feast.”  As the rite of communion began, the children were called forward by name and after each child received the Body of the Lord, the choir led the assembly in “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  At the conclusion of the rite of communion, the choir sang “Esta es Cena de Amor Llena,” an arrangement of a 17th century Guatemalan composition.  As the Mass ended, the assembly sang “Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises,” a song from South Africa; the procession was led by an improvised liturgical dance.  (Versions of all three songs can be found on YouTube.)

Nothing about this celebration struck me as corny or canned or phony.  The children’s ritual gestures fit seamlessly into this parish’s way of incorporating movement into worship.  Bringing forth the gifts in synch with the lyrics of “We Come to Your Feast” highlighted the depth of both the song and the actions.  Using songs from diverse periods and diverse countries was of a piece with the way this parish recognizes itself as one element in the world Church.  It is often said that good liturgy is the best form of catechesis.  Without being overly didactic, this celebration taught / reminded all present about the dignity and beauty of the body, the significance of the gifts of bread and wine, and the splendor of a Church called to be sign of the unity of the human race.

That good liturgy is the best form of catechesis is simply a subset of the larger claim that all liturgies catechize.  I invite readers to post their own thoughts about the catechesis (good or bad) that they have experienced in liturgy (whether the Mass or another form of worship).

5 comments

  1. As I do baptism preparation in our parish, we frequently discuss whether there is any benefit to bringing infants or very young children to mass. My own view is that there are significant catechetical benefits even for young children. They learn that the people of God gather for praise and sanctification. They learn that the people of God have a hierarchical structure, which is made manifest at mass. They learn that the people have an integral and important role in the work of prayer and praise. They learn that discipleship can’t be pursued apart from community. And so on.

  2. My parish welcomes children two or three at a time to First Communion, on the Sundays of Easter. The liturgy opens at the font, linking it tacitly to their baptism (for many of them in that very place, at another Eucharistic celebration). A Jewish friend came to celebrate with us for my oldest son’s First Communion, she had also come for my children’s baptisms. After Mass told me she was transported back to their baptisms when we began.

  3. It has been nearly 40 years since i have been part of a parish that welcomed all first communicants on one single occasion. We conduct a preparation program that seeks the involvement of parents who tell us when they believe their child is ready to experience penance and communion for the first time. First penance precedes communion by three or four months and they select one of the Sundays of Easter for the child to receive first communion at the Mass they normally offer. The prep makes clear that our goal is to teach the children how to offer and celebrate Mass or to at least know the components of that offering. There is a meeting with each child to confirm their readiness and they are well aware that they are expected to sing the praises of God and to participate in all the prayers. The focus is not on knowing how to receive communion but what it means to celebrate the Eucharist they have been “attending” since they were little ones. We get mixed results. There are still parents who figure out the minimum compliance and whose children we are sometimes surprised to see for second communion. But we do our best to call them to become disciples. We are planning to begin the process next year with an evangelizing retreat experience for parents to facilitate an encounter with the Lord who gives himself to us in the Eucharist.

  4. I’m in the basement of the Church where 40 second graders…one of three groups of second graders are lining up to process into Mass to get their first Communions that day each one with their own Mass … This particular group of 7 year olds contained my niece/Godchild. And the Sister is telling the “chatting about First Communion attachments” children…”Now children, settle down because this is a special day where Jesus is very close to you…it is all about Jesus today and not about the parties, or the presents you will get, or the money…”

    To which a boy near the back of line yells “money, who got money!?”

    All hell broke loose.

    The joy of catechetical efforts for second graders.

    1. @Ed Nash #4:

      I remember getting a children’s bible (I was 8) and a dinner at a restaurant. Immediate family only.

      That was not normal among my peers, however, who, while they didn’t have the grand party of Michael Corleone…nevertheless generally had large bashes of some sort. (And then confirmations needed to aspire to resemble bar mitzvah parties.) Ah, suburban Long Island in the late 1960s through mid-1970s….

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