Let’s Bring Back Communion Breakfasts

A regular Communion breakfast is a chance for people to come together — not just to be with each other, but to grow spiritually together.

‘Coffee’ (photo: Lifestyle Travel Photo / Shutterstock)

Mary Ennis Meo wrote a fantastic article, “Communion Breakfast, A Tradition Worth Reviving,” over on the Catholic Stand website. It’s worth your read.

Communion breakfasts used to be a fixed part of many parishes’ community life. For younger readers: once upon a time parishes had religious groups, usually sex-specific. In my boyhood parish, now St. John Paul II in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the women had a Rosary Society, the men the Holy Name Society. 

These groups had a certain rhythm of life in the parish. The Rosarians, for example, would attend the 9am Mass on a certain Sunday every month, receive Communion together, and then say the Rosary. When a member died, they gathered at the wake to pray the Rosary communally. The Holy Name Society men from all the parishes in Perth Amboy and from two neighboring towns divided up the night of First Friday to First Saturday every month, committing themselves to one hour of adoration on a rotating schedule in the one parish in town where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed from 6pm Friday evening until the 7am Mass Saturday. The men from one parish, for example, would adore 8-9pm in August, 9-10pm in September, and so on, so that everyone had a chance to sacrifice some time sometime in the night.

And, usually once a month, they had a Communion breakfast.

The Communion breakfast was not an elaborate affair. The ladies (or men) trooped over from Sunday Mass to the school hall next door. They might have coffee and cake or, if some of the members were more ambitious, scrambled eggs and toast. Some months they had a meeting of their group. In others, they had a speaker — back then often one of the priests or a priest from a neighboring parish — to address them. 

It differed from today’s typical after-Mass coffee and cake in certain key respects. For one, there was a group with a spiritual purpose behind it. They attended Mass together or went to adoration together. They were spiritually united before they came together and they came together with a purpose. Sometimes it was to decide what their group would be doing, others it was to learn something by hearing a speaker. It was fellowship. It was a chance to women to bond together and men to bond together. But it was not just an ad hoc, come-and-go-as-you-please affair. And it was not a fundraising activity: if any money was collected at all, it was a nominal contribution to defray the cost of eats.

Meo calls for a revival of Communion breakfasts, and I agree. In many parishes, that will involve something more than the post-Mass gathering of people for a kind of meet-and-greet. It’s not just fellowship or “community.” It also took on the assumption of learning or participating in some further spiritual bonding together, and that presupposes structure. 

Informal gatherings are nice, but they often also lead to superficial “connections.” The regular Communion breakfast is a chance for people to come together — not just to be with each other, but to grow spiritually together. 

Let’s keep the “Men’s Club” pancake breakfasts and the after-Mass donuts. They have a purpose. But let’s add some spiritual content to those empty physical calories. Why not try to organize a speaker, say, every three months? 

One catalyst for the U.S. bishops’ “Eucharistic revival” effort is the religious illiteracy the 2019 Pew Survey highlighted in terms of Catholics’ understanding of Jesus’ Real Presence. What better overarching theme for Communion breakfasts taking place immediately after Mass and Communion? It seems to be a wonderful opportunity for priests in a parish, town or region to apply themselves to that revival effort. 

In the examples I cited from my boyhood parish, the popular devotions that brought men and women together were Christocentric and Marian. The Rosarians came together for Mass. The Holy Name men assembled for adoration. Their devotions were connected to the Eucharist and to the Church’s long tradition of Marian prayer. Only a superficial theology could not have recognized the solid spiritual roots those popular devotions had, suggesting their revival — adapted to our day — would produce spiritual fruit in today’s Church. 

In my opinion, one reason for contemporary illiteracy concerning the Eucharist stems from the loss of the sense of sacrament and sacrifice at the expense of an overemphasis on the “meal” aspect. Given that the meal connected with the celebration of the Eucharist disappeared sometime in Paul’s era and the sacrament of the Eucharist should not be reduced primarily to a “meal,” the Communion breakfast seems a proper way for nature and grace to meet.

So, what are we waiting for? If you’re a priest, consider organizing such a Communion breakfast and promoting parish attendance. If you’re a lay person, why not go to the priest, suggest it, and volunteer?