By KATHY SCHMUGGE
In the month of May, soon after Easter, Catholic children prepare to receive the life-changing sacrament, their first holy Communion. This important milestone in a Catholic’s life brings both joy and hope perfectly expressed in the young faces that shine forth God’s infinite love.
Parents, often assisted by their parish, try to make the day as memorable as possible, by giving each child a spiritual reference point, a place to go back and reflect upon if their faith should ever waiver.
Pictures are taken; religious gifts and sacramentals are given, and children are dressed to “proclaim to the parish community the presence of a new member at the family table.” White clothing has been a long-standing tradition dating back to the early church when the sacraments of initiation was administered together at the Easter Vigil. “New white garments” were worn throughout the season to symbolize new birth, purity and resurrection. Today some families have incorporated their own traditions such as passing down the Communion dress, veil or other articles from generation to generation.
Preparation for the sacrament can come through a classroom setting, by the parents or a combination of both. The goal of preparation is not to produce instant theologians but to bring the child to a point where they have a basic understanding of the sacrament, fully trusting that grace will fill in the gaps as the child matures in faith.
Celeste Duckett is pleased with the preparation her son, Harrison, has received at St. Martin de Porres Church and School.
“The children take on religion like soccer or anything else. It is so integrated in their lives,” she said.
The history of first Communion is one that has almost come full circle. The Catholic Church from the start allowed the young to come to Christ through eucharistic Communion. This open invitation to children was based on the words of Christ, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God.”
Waiting until children “had come to the use of reason” with some knowledge of the sacrament, became the accepted practice that was confirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 with Canon 21 that states, “All the faithful of both sexes shall, after reaching the years of discretion, make private confession of all their sins to their own priest at least once a year, and shall, according to their capacity, perform the enjoined penance; they shall also devoutly receive the sacrament of Holy Eucharist at least at Easter time unless on the advice of their own priest.”
Varying interpretations on the age when a child was “properly disposed to receive” the Body and Blood of Christ caused the age of reception to edge up into adolescence in some areas. For clarity and to put an end to abuses, St. Pope Piux X restates Christ’s own words about the faith of children in Quam Singulari, written on Aug. 8, 1910, “Again, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. … And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me.”
He provided guidance on age, preparation for the sacrament that is still used today. He gave the age of reason to be around 7 for the sacrament of penance and Communion and encouraged frequent reception of the sacraments, not just once a year. He also spoke against the error of requiring first Communion before the sacrament of reconciliation. Pope Paul VI gave further clarification by stating that first confession should come before first Communion in Sanctus Pontifex signed on May 24, 1973, a practice that continues today producing “many benefits for Christian life and spiritual perfection.”
Pope Pius X said, ” The pages of the Gospel show clearly how special was that love for children which Christ showed while He was on earth. It was his delight to be in their midst; he was wont to lay his hands on them; he embraced them; and he blessed them.”
The church community this month brings their children to his holy table and the children in turn give the adults a fresh, innocent and pure perspective.
Several children from Columbia area Catholic churches shared their thoughts about first Communion with The Miscellany:
“I really like receiving the Body and Blood of Christ because I knew Jesus was with me. I knew God would be there, too. I liked how everyone honored us.”
“I can’t wait until my first Communion. My heart will feel warm inside when I receive Jesus because he loves me so much.”
“I have wanted to receive holy Communion for a long time. When I would see everyone receive holy Communion I would wish I could too. Now I can receive Jesus at Communion time because I know the bread and wine are really Jesus.”
“Jesus loves me so much, and he wants to come into my heart. I will be so happy to have Jesus with me. My family will be happy for me, too.”
Savannah Bacon on the day of her first Communion gently corrected her 4-year-old brother, Cole, who was trying to provoke her, “Now Cole, don’t do that. I don’t want to sin after I just received Jesus.”
Such a statement, demonstrates just how much a young child understands, and it should be remembered and imitated by all who have the privilege to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.