blooming flowers mean first Communion season has arrived.Second
graders across the country eagerly await the day — including the children at my
parish, St. Peter Catholic Church in
The children’s colorful banner hangs in the sanctuary, reflecting their joy about the sacrament. It’s also a reminder of the year they spent preparing — under the guidance of their parents, teachers and CCD instructors — to receive the Lord.
The children’s anticipation is
summed up by Father Daniel Deutsch, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church in
“They’re so excited,” says the priest. “Their minds are so open and their hearts are so filled with Jesus.”
How to increase the odds that such enthusiasm for the Blessed Sacrament will last a lifetime? Here are some suggestions.
“Parents and siblings should share their stories and memories of first Communion,” says Elizabeth Ficocelli, mother of four boys and author of Child’s Guide to First Holy Communion (Paulist Press). “Look at pictures. Create anticipation, longing and excitement about first Communion.”
“Parents should explain to their children what the Eucharist means to them,” adds Father Deutsch. “Tell them, ‘This is why I love to receive holy Communion. This is how I feel; this is how it helps me at home, in our marriage, and at work.’ Kids need to understand that it’s not just the moment of receiving, but what happens after that matters.”
Parental example is important because actions speak louder than words, notes Dominican Sister Mary Joseph Campbell of the Michigan-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. A middle-school teacher, she’s a co-host of EWTN’s “Truth in the Heart” catechesis series for children.
“Words and books don’t cut it all the way,” adds the nun. “Take the time to show how important this is. Children will read into the parents’ attitude and come to understand. They need to know that this is the most important thing in their lives, that it’s so amazing to be able to receive Jesus.”
“Family prayer is essential,” says Father Deutsch. “It opens the hearts of children so they know we’re not alone, that God gives us all that we need to live our lives.”
Ficocelli recommends specific prayer for the first Communicant. “Pray for the child who’s making his or her first Communion as a family,” she says. “Pray that the child grows closer to Jesus.”
And pray to be ready to receive first Communion, adds Sister Mary Joseph. “If time is spent each night asking for their hearts to be open,” she says, “the focus is on anticipation.”
Go to Confession
Father Deutsch says understanding the link between confession and the Eucharist before first Communion is essential — and should be prompted by the parents’ example.
“Kids need to see their parents going to confession,” he says. “They need to know that when Mom and Dad make mistakes they go before Our Lord to be forgiven. When they see Mom and Dad going, that’s huge, that helps children make a good confession themselves.”
Father Deutsch recommends children make their first reconciliation as close to first Communion as possible.
Eucharistic adoration can be a wonderful vehicle for helping children to understand the Real Presence, says Father Deutsch. “Kids learn that what looks like bread is no longer bread,” he points out. “What they’re learning in books and in class, they experience firsthand in adoration. They see people in reverence before Our Lord. They come to see the connection. They know that ‘Soon I won’t just be able to look at you. I’ll soon get to receive you.’”
Sister Mary Joseph says that the simple faith of second graders helps them to understand the Real Presence. “With 7- and 8-year-olds, their faith is so real,” she says. “They don’t doubt that it’s really Jesus. They have an intimacy with God that’s very open to anything devotional.”
Make Mass Meaningful
To help kids connect first Communion with the rest of their lives as Catholics, “Make sure the family is actively preparing for Mass every Sunday,” urges Father Deutsch. “Discuss the Scripture readings beforehand so the children understand them.”
Attention is also important, Ficocelli says. “Before they’re able to receive Jesus, they should learn to be quiet and attentive at Mass, especially during the consecration,” she says. “When they’re old enough for Communion, focus with them on receiving respectfully and worthily.”
And the heart of the Communion meal should be understood. “Communion is a shared meal with the parish and larger Catholic community, which makes us a family,” Ficocelli says. “Emphasize the idea of a meal by having meals together as a family so that the children can make that parallel.”
Spending time after Mass in thanksgiving for the Eucharist is also a good discipline. “To remain there, praying in thanksgiving to God for this amazing gift,” says Sister Mary Joseph, “shows children how important reverence is.”
To help children understand why the Church believes what it believes about the Eucharist, Ficocelli suggests a virtual field trip to Holy Thursday Mass. “Recall for them the Last Supper and the institution of the sacrament,” she adds. “Read stories from the Bible. Show them where the Mass and the Eucharist comes from. Children at 7 and 8 can understand the Eucharistic miracles. Kids can really latch onto that.”
Sister Mary Joseph recommends stories of the saints as well. “Little second graders are easily inspired by stories of the saints,” she says.
All three experts agree on one point: Be ready to provide simple, age-appropriate explanations.
“When I give talks to children, I explain that we take vitamins to make our bodies strong, and that Communion is like a vitamin for the soul,” Ficocelli says. “It makes us stronger and helps us grow in the right direction.”
Amy Smith writes from