This is a big year for Claire. Today she will go to confession for the first time and later this spring she receives her first Holy Communion. She is beyond excited.
I must confess that as a non-denominational Protestant I never understood the big deal Catholics made over a child’s First Communion. We made a big deal over a child saying a prayer of salvation (I suppose because we thought it “secured” their salvation, right?). A smaller deal was made of their subsequent baptism. Even though it was considered a symbolic act that didn’t have any spiritual effect it was almost always recognized as significant by the community. But First Communion, well, it was rarely talked about, much less an event celebrated by the church community.
In most of the non-denominational churches I attended it was up to the parents to determine when their kids received the symbolic bread and grape juice. If they decided one week that their child was ready for Communion then the next week they could let them participate. There wasn’t any formal or consistent First Communion preparation for children or for adults who were new to the faith for that matter. *
My experience as a Catholic, however, has been very different. Catholics, well, they make a big deal over this First Communion thing; it’s not just a “me and Jesus” affair, it’s a family and parish community affair.
Claire started preparing for her First Communion in September. She has two wonderful CCD teachers (CCD stands for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) and a class full of friends, most of whom seem to be as excited as she is. Her teachers Mary and Bob have spent week after week teaching them about God’s love, our sin and what it does to us and His forgiveness. And of course they’ve talked about the Holy Eucharist and how it really is His Body and His Body just like Jesus tells us in John 6: 53-58 and Matthew 26: 26-29. What a gift it is to have a parish community helping Scott and me to raise our girls in the faith.
Lately the class has focused on preparing for their First Reconcilation. Mary and Bob have taught them the importance of having their hearts ready to receive Communion by thinking about what they’ve done and telling God they’re sorry for the times they haven’t been loving toward Him and others (I Corinthians 11: 23-29).**
You should have seen the kids at their First Reconciliation retreat last week when our Pastor demonstrated what sin does to the heart and the grace of forgiveness. He started by dumping all kinds of food into a pristine bowl of water and mixing it up. It was gross, just like sin! Then he cleaned out the bowl, poured fresh water in and talked about the forgiveness and grace we receive when we tell God we’re sorry in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The kids were of course thoroughly entertained by this demonstration and screamed with delight at his antics, but more than that, I think they got it!
And now that I’m Catholic, so do I. I get why Catholic parents makes such a big deal of First Communion. I’m one of them now and I find I’m just as excited for Claire as she is for herself.
My Claire is growing up in her faith. The Holy Spirit, whom she received at her baptism (Acts 2:38-39), has brought her to this place where she is publicly professing the faith for herself. In a few short months she’ll be nourished and strengthend as she receives the life of Jesus through His Body and Blood just as His Word tells us (John 6:54). I’m not sure that as a mom I could ask for much more at this point in life.
*I suppose that most Protestants don’t make a fuss about your First Communion because it’s considered a symbolic act. We didn’t believe that Communion was an efficacious sacrament (means of grace) in which Jesus wanted to give us His life through His Body and Blood (John 6:53-54). I for one didn’t believe Jesus when He said, My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink (John 6:55). While Communion was meaningful to me in that it reminded me of Christ’s death it wasn’t a “necessary” part of living in Christ. It was just something my fellow church members and I did periodically as a symbol of our faith. In retrospect I have to wonder how I could’ve ever accused Catholics of practicing empty rituals when the very rituals I practiced were only symbolic acts.
**If you’re a Protestant or Catholic who doesn’t know your own faith you may not understand why Catholics confess their sins to a priest. This may seem unnecessary because you believe all we need to do is go directly to God. I completely understand this perspective. It was hurdle for me in my conversion. Trust me, there are Biblical and historical reasons for this Sacrament. In the near future I will explain why Catholics participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.