Last weekend and this weekend we have the privilege of gathering as a parish family at Mass as our children receive their First Holy Communion. I can recall having made my own First Holy Communion in 1st grade with my classmates at St. Ann’s Church in Wildwood. It was a separate ceremony back then, on a Saturday morning (if I remember correctly). Some parishioners have asked me, “Why don’t we do it like we used to do it all together as a class?”
There are a number of reasons for our current practice (which, incidentally, has been in place prior to my arrival as pastor). Let’s first look at our diocesan guidelines for sacramental preparation:
The preferred option for the celebration of First Eucharist is within the Sunday Liturgy. It is the whole community, the Body of Christ united with its Head, that celebrates [the liturgy.] Liturgical services are not private functions but are celebrations of the Church which is the ‘sacrament of unity’ (SC 26*). Liturgical services pertain to the whole Church. Rites are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, and should as far as possible be celebrated in this way rather than by an individual or quasi-privately. (SC 27*) Eucharist is the crowning jewel in the sacraments of initiation and should be celebrated within the parish worshipping community. It is recommended that the celebration take place during the Easter Season when the Church traditionally welcomes her new members. (Sacramental Guidelines when Sacraments of Initiation are not Celebrated Together, Diocese of Camden, 2005)
It is critical to remember that the two families that should be most important in the children’s lives are their domestic family and their Church family. The parents are the first (and need to be the best) teachers of their children in the ways of faith. It is also necessary to consider that we are preparing the children to be a part of the regular worshipping community that we call the Church. While it may look “nice” or “cute” to have all of the children together in one (or two) ceremonies with their classmates and friends, it is much more essential to emphasize for them the bonds of family and Church. Essentially, we are not preparing them to be with their current friends (who may not be their friends past next week), but to be regular, practicing members of the Catholic Church as experienced through their local parish family.
Let me again quote our diocesan guidelines:
Children should be made aware that Eucharist is not a “once and done” sacrament. Therefore, there should be encouragement to the children (and their parents) to form good habits of weekly celebration of the Eucharist.
We all have much to learn from each other and to teach one another. We should rejoice to see our children share in the sacramental life of the Catholic Church, as lived and experienced in our parish family of St. Joseph. If the faith is not handed on to, experienced and practiced by our young, then eventually our Church will be nothing but a bunch of empty, lifeless buildings.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
(*SC Sacrosanctum Concillium 12/4/63, a document of Vatican II)
My First Holy Communion, 1967