March 14, 2012 // Local

First Communion unites the body of Christ

By Kay Cozad

Children from all over the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend have been preparing for months to receive the sacrament of first Communion. The Eucharist, instituted by Jesus at the last supper, is the very heart of the Catholic faith and according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” CCC 1324

The rich and fruitful history of this sacrament of initiation dates back, of course, to the last supper, when Jesus invited His Apostles to share in His eternal presence by remembering Him throughout all time by receiving His own sacrificial body and blood under the species of bread and wine.

The early Christians shared special meals in their homes in remembrance of their Savior on the first day of the week, Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection. Gradually the structure of the Eucharistic celebration was formed with the addition of the Liturgy of the Word. And by the year 155 St. Justin Martyr wrote on the structure of what is now the modern Mass.

Children typically receive their first Communion around the age of seven or eight, as that is considered the age of reason. Catholic children prepare for the reception of the sacrament with a year or two of religious education within their school curriculum or through their parish program. They come to understand as best they can the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, called Transubstantiation.

They learn that “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and it is in the act of receiving the real presence of Christ that they give thanks to God for the sacrificial gift of His only begotten Son. It is in the sharing of the risen Lord that they become part of the earthly community in which He dwells.

Traditionally a child’s first Communion is celebrated with special clothing. Often the clothing is white symbolizing purity, with decorative dresses and special veils or floral wreaths for the girls, who are now brides of Christ. Many times these dresses are heirlooms that have been passed down from generation to generation or from sister to sister.

Boys dress in dark slacks with white shirt and tie. Many wear special suits for the occasion.

The sacrament of first Communion is a festive celebration calling for large family gatherings with religious gifts such as prayer books, Bibles, rosaries, and religious statues. It is considered a rite of passage into the sharing of the life of the Church, which was begun at Baptism.

St. Mary of the Assumption, in Decatur, second graders have been excitedly preparing for this special sacramental day with their teachers Michelle Miller and Nicole Selking, with much class time spent on reading from their regular text, discussing the sacrament, coloring and filling in worksheets.

Miller says, “We are making our own scrapbooks,” for which parents have sent in Baptismal pictures with memories of the day for the Baptism page, Reconciliation photos, and personal anecdotes written by the students themselves on what this process means to them.

“And we spend a lot of time practicing,” says Miller, whose students will sit as a class for their first Communion, while other parishes have students receive with their parents. “We practice walking down the aisle and using first Communion hands,” she reports, adding the students practice in the classroom and in the church.

Second-grader Sara Bechinski is anticipating her first Communion with joy and says, “In second grade it is special to receive Communion because in your whole life you never ate the body and blood from Jesus’ body!”

Fellow student Paige Busick couldn’t agree more saying, “I can receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. I will be so proud of myself when I am done and I’m sure my friends will be too.”

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