March 4, 2015 // Local

Preparing for first Communion …

It takes parish and family to prepare young people for Reconciliation, first Communion

By Tim Johnson

First Reconciliation and first Communion can easily be described as a rite of passage for young people — part of being drawn deeper into the Catholic Church.

It takes months to prepare young people for Reconciliation and first Communion. Prepared by catechists, Catholic schoolteachers, the parish priest, even mom and dad play a vital role in the preparation.

Katie Pleus, a second-grade teacher at St. John the Baptist School in Fort Wayne, told Today’s Catholic, “The students come into second grade on the first day of school knowing that this is a very important year for them religiously. They are very excited about preparing for these two special days in their lives.”

Elise Bohl, who teaches religion to all the grade levels at St. Aloysius School, Yoder, and prepares the children for the sacraments, told Today’s Catholic that reading and acting out the Scripture stories of the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves and the Last Supper, are aides in preparation.

The children “practice by acting out the sacrament of Reconciliation and how to properly receive the Eucharist,” added Bohl.

All the schools and religious education programs use preparation books. At St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Elkhart, Harry Palmer, the religious education department director, noted that the multicultural aspect of the parish entails preparation of not just second graders, but also young people in third through junior high grades. They use a bilingual text, Palmer noted, but are making a concerted effort to teach all the classes in English.

St. Vincent Parish celebrates many cultural traditions that are both visible and participatory for the children. Palmer said, “Most of the cultural events are Hispanic in nature, but Italians and Polish members have some traditions incorporated into our liturgical celebrations.” The children act in skits during Advent and Lent.

Cynthia Kinney, a second-grade religious education teacher at St. John the Baptist Parish encourages her public school students to use the quiet time in the classroom “to talk to Jesus in their heart during this time.” They also use their valuable religious education class time learning about the sacraments, practicing and learning to spend time with God. “Tell Him how much I love Him, how much I need Him, how much I thank Him and how much I praise Him,” noted Kinney.

At St. John the Baptist, the school has incorporated “letters from family, friends and other students encouraging the second graders in their religious journey,” Katie Pleus said. “This is important because they can see that people they know have been through this, to be nervous is normal and the great joy that comes in receiving the sacraments.”

Msgr. Bernard Galic, pastor at St. Aloysius, visits the classes and talks with the students. And Father Daniel Whelan, a member of the Sons of St. Philip Neri, a community-in-formation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri and pastor at St. John the Baptist, and Father Matt Coonan, pastor, and Father Zak Barry, parochial vicar, at St. Vincent are also very involved in the process. This helps relieve some of the “jitters” a young person might feel about first Reconciliation and first Communion.

“Father Matthew and Father Zak both have a gift for relating with our children,” said Palmer, “and making them feel comfortable in many circumstances. They are fully engaged in the catechesis of our children and have a great relationship with children and the catechists.”

And families are a part of the preparation as well.

At St. John the Baptist, Kinney noted, “The family helps prepare by taking their children to Sunday Mass. They help the child memorize the Act of Contrition. We also come together on Gathering Day for Bible study, making of bread, painting the craft activities and eating lunch as a family and class.”

Father Daniel Whelan said the children and families are encouraged “to attend Sunday Mass, emphasizing that this is the most important event of the week.”

“First Communion for their children should be the first of many Communions,” Father Daniel said. “To receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ is far more important than the gathering afterwards with family and friends.”

He added that families are encouraged to bring their children to Adoration. Every Friday evening, the Sons of St. Phillip Neri invite anyone to join them in a Holy Hour at St. John the Baptist.

“This is a perfect opportunity for families to come and spend time with the Lord,” Father Daniel noted. “On First Fridays, we have all-day Adoration with the student body, where each class comes separately to adore the Lord. They all gather in the afternoon to close the day with Benediction.”

Father Daniel said, “We emphasize the importance of first Confession and encourage the parents to lead by example by going themselves and making regular Confession a part of spiritual life of their families.”

At St. Vincent de Paul, parents are updated at meetings throughout the year on their child’s progress and are notified of upcoming activities. “We also stress the importance of the parents making their home a spiritual place for their children by praying and reading the Bible as a family,” Palmer said.

He added, “We emphasize that the home is the domestic church and catechesis needs to take place there every day and not just Sunday.”

At St. Aloysius, Bohl noted that prayers are sent home for practice and ideas for discussion and a weekly topic or extra activities are sent home for preparation for the sacraments.

She noted, “It’s amazing how the students truly get these sacraments. Adults may tend to question their faith — drifting from the sacrament of Reconciliation or questioning the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist — but the children have such faith. They understand and fully accept these gifts and believe in the power of God in these sacraments.”

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