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!