First Communion: Save It for Sunday

Disclaimer: The following is my own opinion based on my own observations over many years of being a parent, a musician, and a parishioner. I am not a member of the clergy, a catechist, or the holder of a degree in theology.

This past weekend, it was my privilege to be one of the musicians at our parish’s First Holy Communion celebration. This is the first time in several years that First Holy Communion was held on a Saturday.

I’m not a fan.

I can think of only four reasons to schedule First Holy Communion as a separate event for only the children in the Communion class and their families:

  1. Hairdressers are open on Saturdays.
  2. It’s easier to schedule the afterparty.
  3. Sunday Mass won’t take 5 extra minutes because there are a few children receiving First Holy Communion, and it takes a little longer to have them (and their parents) receive before the entire assembly.
  4. There’s a good deal of extra running around involved for the DRE.

None of these are good reasons. All of these (except reason 4) pander to people who are either more concerned about the externals of the celebration than the sacrament itself or likely to complain because Mass is a little longer than usual. We need to challenge the assembly, including the families of children receiving sacraments, to be better than this.

I can think of one compelling reason to (as my parish has done for the past few years) designate a Sunday (or two) as First Communion Sunday and invite families to sign up for the Mass they usually attend and receive First Communion:

Reception of the Eucharist is not a private event.

The celebration of First Holy Communion should not be divorced from the rest of the parish.

I used to love when First Communion Sundays rolled around. There would be several families arriving in the vestibule as I got there. The other musicians and I would make sure to congratulate the children. The First Communicants and their families would sit in the first few rows of pews, and there would be special mention of First Communion during the homily and the Prayer of the Faithful. The rest of the people at Mass were the people who are also usually at that Mass, and seeing children receive First Communion at Sunday Mass strengthens that community bond within the parish.

Three years ago, when my friends’ sons received First Holy Communion, I wrote:

I love that at this parish, First Communion is celebrated during Sunday Masses, so that the whole community gets to be there to celebrate along with the children who have been waiting in the pews for seven or eight years to join the rest of the assembly in the sacrament.

Those boys are altar servers now. There’s a commitment to the Church that is affirmed when a family faithfully attends Mass together.

And then there are the other reasons that Sunday is the proper day for First Communion:

  • The pastor will not be tempted to tell parents of First Communicants, “If you’re not going to bring them on Sunday, don’t bother bringing them on Saturday.” (Yes, this happened when my oldest received his First Communion in 2000.)
  • The pastor and/or deacon will not need to provide verbal directions such as “Please kneel” (after the Holy, Holy, Holy) because even if there are visitors among the families of the First Communicants, the vast majority of the assembly will know what to do and will lead by example.
  • There won’t be a low hum of conversation throughout the entire Mass. (Yes, this happened at the class Mass on Saturday.)
  • Catechists won’t need to scold First Communicants for talking and fidgeting while they wait for the rest of the assembly to receive Communion, because the First Communicants will be sitting with their parents, who should be monitoring and modeling church behavior. (Yes, this happened at the class Mass on Saturday.)
  • Family members and friends of the First Communicants will be less tempted to treat the occasion as a photo opportunity (even after instructions to the contrary are given) and won’t jump out into the aisle to wave at their First Communicant during the entrance procession. (Yes, this happened (several times) at the class Mass on Saturday.)

There should be nothing in the religious education program at a parish that sends the message (intentionally or not) that sacraments of initiation are private events, to be enjoyed only by those receiving those sacraments and their families and friends.

By Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP via Flickr (2009), CC BY-NC 2.0

Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS

Hello, yes, it’s been awhile…

Tomorrow evening is the Lenten Penance Service at my parish.

I’m not a frequent flyer at Confession, partly because I never seem to have good luck with it. I’ve tried penance services that turn into Near Occasions of Sin and had lackluster experiences at Saturday-afternoon Confession. (Last time I did that, 3 or 4 years ago, there was no penance, no Act of Contrition…I felt like Father was just phoning it in.)

So I stopped going.

I don’t think too many other people go either, judging by our Substitute Priest’s addendum to Sunday’s announcement about the Penance Service. He said that he’d asked the parish secretary why there was only one such service during Lent, and she promised him that the church wouldn’t even be close to full for that.

Well, around here Wednesday night is Folk Group night, but we decided that we’d practice on Thursday this week so we can go to Confession after hearing Father V’s insistence that this is the best thing we can do for our souls.

Honestly, I don’t feel like any priest has bothered before*. They announce the service and then leave us to our own devices. But Father V wasn’t letting it go that easily.

He said once, during a homily, that as a Substitute Priest he can say what he wants, because he’s only there temporarily so he doesn’t have to worry about being kicked out. So he tells it like it is. And that’s a good thing. I’m grateful that Father V cares enough about the state of our souls to make a big deal out of it.

*Please note that I’m not calling out my current pastor here, because (a) he only just got here in the summer and (b) he’s been dealing with health problems that have incapacitated him since early January, hence our need for a Substitute Priest.

Image credit: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain.

This Bread That We Share

For the past eight years I have been part of the folk group that sings at the noon Mass at St. Casimir Church. One member of our group is a mom of twins, who will turn eight at the end of this month, and who will receive their First Holy Communion at Mass today.

st casimir churchI remember encouraging this overwhelmed mom to bring the boys to church when they were babies and then toddlers. I remember helping other singers create “baby barricades” with chairs, the organ bench, and guitar cases to help corral the boys in the choir area.

I remember when they learned to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It was adorable.

As the boys grew, we’d hear more and more singing coming from the back row. They knew all the acclamations long before they could read. And we’d hear catechesis happening–the kind I hope goes on in any pew where children are present. We’d hear a mom gently reminding her sons to pay attention, to look at Father, to notice the important moments in Mass. We’d watch her patiently shepherd her boys through the Communion line with her, where they would stand quietly while she reverently received the Eucharist.

Today it’s their turn. Today they won’t be sitting in the back row of the choir, but up front, looking handsome with fresh haircuts and stylish ties. Today we will sing “This Bread That We Share” as these boys will approach the altar for the very first time to receive the Eucharist.

I love that at this parish, First Communion is celebrated during Sunday Masses, so that the whole community gets to be there to celebrate along with the children who have been waiting in the pews for seven or eight years to join the rest of the assembly in the sacrament.

Congratulations to our friends (the twins) and to their parents who have been very dedicated to raising them well. Congratulations to all the First Communicants!

I Confess

I fail at Confession.

Sometimes I feel like Confession fails me.

I definitely have to stop attending those “communal Penance services.” It’s like drive-by Confession, and it’s never a good experience–which is why I let two or three years go by between Confessions, until I feel absolutely driven to seek absolution, and I drag myself there.

For me, “communal Penance services” are a near occasion of sin. (So why do I go? Because they’re not on Saturday afternoons, which are always so nutty that I can never manage to get to Confession for the 45 minutes our parish offers it at that time.)

If it were up to me, these services would be simple affairs consisting of a hymn or two, a Scripture reading or two, and a short homily from Father explaining how to make a good examination of conscience. After that, everyone lines up for Confession.

Here’s how it went last night:

  • Arrive and find a pew. Listen to announcement by cantor that if you forgot a “worship aid” you should raise your hand and a “team member” would bring one to you.
  • Hymn, Liturgy of the Word, prayer.
  • A combination skit/prayer/examination of conscience in which 6 costumed actors represented Isaiah, John the Baptist, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Jesus and lectors read prayers relating the examination of conscience to each of these Biblical figures.
  • Lineup for Confession. After the initial scramble to get in line for your favorite priest, I waited 40 minutes, only to end up with the hard-of-hearing priest who was older than Moses and looked like he might not survive the night. (Good thing the church has its own defibrillator. I was afraid we might have to use it.)
  • Parting gift. After absolution, Father handed me a handy-dandy refrigerator magnet “to remember this evening by.”

I don’t need “worship aids,” “team members,” costumed actors with props, and refrigerator magnets. And frankly, I don’t want them. For me, they get in the way.

I know I shouldn’t be snarky, and I’ll need to go to Confession again over that. To be fair, the service was well-done. Good music, well-prepared readers, good flow. But it felt like a performance, not a prelude to a sacrament.

In the end, the grace of the sacrament is enough–which brings to mind this prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola:

Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my will; all that I have and possess. You have given them to me; to you, O Lord, I restore them. All things are yours: Dispose of them according to your will. Give me your love and your grace; for this is enough for me.

Planning Way Ahead

On the way to church yesterday, we drove down a street where several houses sported “for sale” signs. Seeing these, Little Brother commented, “I wonder where I’ll live when I grow up.”

“I thought you wanted to be a priest, so I guess you’ll live at the house that goes with your church,” I replied.

“But Mom, priests can’t have all 7 sacraments. I want to be a deacon. Do you think Deacon B and Deacon D have received all 7 sacraments?”

“Maybe they have,” I told him. “The only one I can’t be sure about is Anointing of the Sick. But after church tonight, you can ask whichever deacon is there.”

(Such are the advantages of having 2 wonderful deacons in our parish, both of whom know my kids, both of whom are dads and granddads and willing to talk to kids and answer questions about how many sacraments they’ve received.)

After Mass, Little Brother waited his turn and when Deacon B was done speaking to a group of adults, Little Brother asked if he had received all 7 sacraments. They wound up in a good discussion about being a deacon, Holy Orders, and how old you have to be to become a deacon. And Deacon B promised to be there, if he could, when Little Brother receives that sacrament.

Blessed!

Today, Little Brother received his First Holy Communion. He has been waiting and waiting and waiting for this day. And I was pleased to see that Father put this day into excellent perspective.

At the beginning of Mass and during the homily, Father reminded everyone that today is a very special day for the Church. The boys and girls who received their First Holy Communion today are welcomed–and always welcome. They are welcoming Jesus into their hearts and lives, and they are following the words of Jesus, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

I noticed that Father was careful not to tell the children (and their parents) that this is their special day. It seems that he doesn’t buy into that kind of thing. WTG Father!

He also began his homily by talking about how bread has many forms: bread, rolls, bagels, donuts…and how even though the Host looks like just another form of bread, it is not bread–it is Jesus. We can’t see the change happen during the Consecration, but we believe that it does.

I’m thankful for Father’s words today (and his words last night as he helped the children with their last-minute preparations at practice.) I’m thankful for Little Brother’s wonderful teacher who had her class on fire to receive the sacraments this year. Those kids were ready, and they knew what to do. You could pick the parochial-school kids out of the lineup at practice last night, because they were the ones who knew that the correct response to the words “The Body of Christ” was not just to stand there with their hands at their sides, but to say “Amen” and joyfully receive the Lord.

God bless Little Brother and all of this season’s First Communicants!

Sacramentality

We’re getting busy with sacraments around here!

Middle Sister and I attended the mandatory “student and parent” Confirmation retreat on Tuesday. Despite the fact that her class had made a Confirmation retreat in December, the DRE required this one as well. There was a Mass (nice!) and then a craft project. May I rant? What a waste of time! They had to compose a prayer, as a group, then make it into a banner. OK, prayers are good. Let each student compose one. We don’t need markers, glue and foam stickers on felt banners. The kids felt like this was for little kids, not for them.

Sometime between now and February 8, she has to decorate a candle as well. Why is it that some people believe that you can’t have a sacrament without an accompanying art project?

More importantly, is she ready for the sacrament? Who knows? Certainly nothing at the retreat indicated whether anyone was or was not ready. She’s curious–but not committed. And one of her friends is not being confirmed; she is Baptist. Middle Sister wanted to know if this friend would be confirmed, and I replied that I thought she wouldn’t have something called “Confirmation” but instead would have to publicly accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. “Do we do that?” Middle Sister wondered.

“Every time we go to Communion,” I informed her.

Meanwhile, Little Brother is having his “practice confession” today in preparation for Saturday’s First Reconciliation. It should be interesting to hear what he has to say about today’s events.

The Sacrament of Comfort

This morning after Mass, I received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.

(Little Brother’s a little jealous.)

With surgery scheduled for Friday morning, I was happy to be able to receive this sacrament. And not because of any superstitious or magical kind of reasons. I don’t believe that receiving this sacrament is going to automatically ensure a good outcome.

But listening to the words of the prayers of the sacrament, I was reassured. These prayers were for forgiveness, comfort, relief of anxiety, and the grace needed to face what would be ahead–in addition to prayers for good physical health. It is indeed a very comforting sacrament to receive.

This psalm is not a part of the sacrament, but receiving the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick reminded me of the words of Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Overheard

“God has mercy on rebellious pinecones.”

Thomas will get the pinecone part!

Big Brother and Middle Sister are discussing the meaning of their names. Middle Sister is looking for a Confirmation name. Instead of checking out saints and finding one that inspires her, she’s working backwards and finding names she thinks work well with the name she’s already got, and what it means.

Maybe I should have looked a little further into the meaning of her name when I was choosing it in the first place.

A Baptism on Pentecost

This morning at Mass, Father H had the opportunity to do something he appears to really enjoy: baptizing a child. And on Pentecost, no less!

In this case, the child was none other than Adventure Boy!

Father H believes that baptisms are for the whole community–they are not just “private family celebrations” because the whole parish, the whole Catholic community, is the family of the person being baptized. He encouraged everyone to renew their Baptismal promises and really think about our commitment to help Adventure Boy as he grows in the faith.

TheDad and I are Adventure Boy’s godparents. We pray that his life in the Church will be fruitful. We pray for his parents, his grandparents and his brother and sisters. And we take our responsibility seriously to help raise this child in the faith.

God bless you, Adventure Boy!