How to Approach Holy Communion Like a Child

“Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh ‘given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,’ preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism.” (CCC 1392)

Carl Frithjof Smith, “After First Communion”, 1892
Carl Frithjof Smith, “After First Communion”, 1892 (photo: Public Domain)

My youngest daughter marks the Mass by the songs.

There are five songs. There are four songs left. Did we sing the bringing-up-the-gifts song? She is marking time until the donuts. She is counting down until the donuts. As we get closer to the donuts, she grows more excited. During Mass I told her in hopes of getting her to stop asking, I hoped one day she feels even more so about the Eucharist. It raised the question in me: Am I marking the time of the Mass or am I entering into it more deeply? 

Fortunately, I have a child receiving the sacrament for the first time this year to remind me how better to receive. My youngest son will sign up for continuing religious education for students with special needs so he can receive his first communion this spring. Paul’s Down Syndrome means we notice more when he writes his name, when he signs a word, when he takes initiative, because Paul’s words, deeds and actions require more “will” in order to be. Watching him hold his hands in prayer as he walks, and his bow—I know it isn’t imitative, it’s meant. The words “A little child shall lead them,” float into my head. Paul’s reverence when we walk up to receive is visible, and reawakens our own “awe of God.”  He is reminding us how to approach our Lord. 

It is also a reminder of how easy it is to lose that sense of wonder at receiving the Eucharist, how quickly my own mind can become cluttered by the world, by everything and anything, and how my youngest daughter is the same.  We can be in the presence of Jesus, and somehow not see, somehow not hear, somehow not taste. My daughter asked when she could ask again, and I told her to “Trust me.” And knew, that’s what Jesus asks of us as well. She smiled, nodded and held my hand.

Jesus came to his native place and taught the people in their synagogue.

They were astonished and said, ‘Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?’

And Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his native place, and in his own house.’

And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.

Jesus wants to enter under our roof—to teach us, to heal us, to bring us deeper into relationship with the Blessed Trinity. However, when we come to the Mass and do not allow ourselves to enter into the mystery of how this sacrament is the summit of our faith, we cannot expect mighty deeds in our lives. Conversely, if we do approach the sacrament of the Eucharist like a child, if we see with the eyes of faith and hear the word of God joyfully, and feast on the food of everlasting life, we should expect mighty deeds to be done in our souls. Mercifully, Christ gave us the whole of Mass to bring ourselves to the altar, and whether we right ourselves in the first moment of the Mass or at the last moment, or somewhere in between, it is the “yes” that God seeks. Some of us are ready with that “yes” sooner than others. The Mass has all of its many parts so that we may tune our ears, our eyes, our hearts to God. It takes time for all of us “grown-ups” to let all of our everyday fall away so we can approach Jesus as the shepherds or the wise men did, with joyful hearts.  

After the final blessing and song, my daughter looked at me with bright, hopeful and expectant eyes, but she didn’t even need to ask. “Yes. There will be donuts.”