It is right up there with Christmas Eve and Easter morning in both Mass attendance and joy. Even more pictures are taken of it. Months of preparation help make it something to remember for a lifetime. What is it? First Holy Communion. It is one of my favorite events at Saint Bernadette. Aside from the minor danger of being mauled by a grandparent with a camera, it is a day of unalloyed delight.
I remember my own First Holy Communion; it was….not well done. It was 1972 and about everything “traditional” or “ceremonial” had been completely jettisoned by the parish in Metairie, LA, to which my family had moved in March of that year, my second grade year. I was excited, of course, and my parents were eager that I be ready, but all we did was sit in our usual pew and go up for Communion in the usual order. At some point during the Mass – maybe the announcements? -- someone mentioned that I was receiving my First Holy Communion. Disappointing? Of course, but also, I didn’t know better.
Both my sisters received their Firsts at our parish in Birmingham, which was somewhat better. That was the sum total of my experience of First Holy Communion, since we lived far away from our family, and none of my buddies was Catholic (this is Birmingham, remember). At least until I came to Saint Bernadette!
First, I love how we fill the church. Not only do lots of our kids have local family and friends who come, but folks will drive or even fly in for the big event. Second, it is truly an event – a separate Mass. Third, I love that the kids dress for the occasion. Dressing up is one of the ways we show others – and understand ourselves – that something important is happening. The procession, the pictures afterward, and the parties; it’s all so good.
Best of all is that I get to give these children our Eucharistic Lord for their first time. I get to see the seriousness on their faces, the recognition that what they are doing is not only special, but holy. Maybe someday, some of them will remember me as the one who first gave them this great gift that sustains them in their lives, and say a prayer for me. Maybe.
More likely than remembering me, though, they’ll remember the event. And because it happened here, it will be a beautiful memory that reminds them how magnificent is Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.
Because more than the ceremonies or wardrobe, the pictures or the parties, that is at the heart of this most splendid of events. Christ feeds us Himself, and we are blessed to receive Him not just once, but over and over, every Sunday, every Holy Day, and more yet, throughout our lives. Seeing the kids receive theirs reminds me of my own joy of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Wherever it occurs, under whatever circumstances, it consistently is one of the best moments of our lives.