April 30, 2017
This is the weekend for First Communions in our parish. Last year, because of the late Easter, they coincided with Pentecost. This year it is only the Third Sunday of Easter and we have a wonderfully appropriate Gospel reading, the Easter appearance of Jesus to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, where they recognized him “in the breaking of bread”.
You probably know that some parishes, especially those with schools, have a special Mass on a Saturday morning with all the First Communion candidates and their families together. That has the advantage that you can have a group photo of all the children looking at their best. However, there are strong religious reasons for doing things the way we do at Nativity, with the children receiving their First Communion at the regular Sunday Masses. It sometimes means we can have an overcrowded church (not entirely a bad thing) but it also reminds the children that they are part of a bigger community than their family or school. Equally importantly, it gives the congregation a chance to share in the joy of this new sacrament and to pray for the candidates.
A special celebration, apart from the regular Sunday Masses, can give the impression that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, rather like a wedding. However, this receiving of communion is meant to be quite literally a
first communion, the first of many hundreds, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, for the rest of their lives; and those communions will be made as part of the normal congregation. I am always moved when I see the families who are at Mass practically every week; they may vary the Mass time; occasionally they may be away on vacation; but basically Sunday Mass as a family is one of the pillars of their lives. And I know that those parents, some of them single parents, are providing their children with the guidance and strength and security that alone can come from God.
Many Catholic schools give a significant discount on school fees to parishioners who regularly take their children to Mass (I actually have to sign an annual form for each Nativity student who attends a local Catholic school, to confirm that they are at Sunday Mass). The hope of the Diocese is that the habit of faithful attendance, even if it is entered into initially for the pragmatic reason of saving money, will eventually become the habit of a lifetime. We have strongly encouraged our First Communion families to bring their children regularly to Mass throughout this year of preparation (and no bribes have been involved!). Let us pray that they will continue to be in church week after week to be nourished with the Lord’s Body and Blood, and may we all grow in appreciation of the priceless gift of the Eucharist.