Do you remember your First Holy Communion? I remember mine clearly — memorizing the acts of faith, hope and love in Sister Teresa Marie’s second-grade class, the excitement and anticipation in finding a beautiful lacy white dress and veil to honor the occasion, and on the big day itself, kneeling at the altar rail with butterflies in my stomach, waiting for Father to make it to my place in the row. I was going to be meeting with Jesus!
When my oldest boys were ready to make their First Communion I found a book on Blessed Imelda Lambertini, the patron saint of First Communicants. I hadn’t read it beforehand, so together we learned, page by page, about this little saint. I would read to the boys at night, lights low, after they were tucked in their beds, and my five year old daughter and three year old son snuggled contentedly on my lap. I will never forget what happened as we finished the book. Imelda died in ecstasy shortly after receiving her First Holy Communion. I didn’t see it coming. If I was surprised, my children were absolutely mortified. My daughter gasped at the words, “…but it was no dream. Imelda had died a few minutes after making her First Communion.” She eyed her brothers cautiously and then asked timidly, “Does that happen to everyone who makes their First Communion?” I assured her that was blessedly not the case. Most people survive to receive Jesus many times, I promised. The next few days I had to reassure my children that what happened to Blessed Imelda was really quite rare. But firmly entrenched in their little brains was what a significant event the reception of the Eucharist is.
Every time I attend the First Communion of a child, one of my own or a nephew or niece, I have to fight back tears. I love to watch the children, in their purity, process forward and prepare to receive Jesus. Heads bowed, oh so reverently, the children look like angels. I imagine that the moment is punctuated by bursts of celestial music by angels in heaven celebrating the moment when the divine Creator stoops to be in union with His humble creation. I imagine, too, what the mother of a religious must feel as her son or daughter takes sacred vows. Will any of my children join that blessed bunch? Will anyone in their First Communion class? I wonder every time someone makes a First Communion.
I heard a priest once say that if we knew what a gift the Eucharist was, what graces were poured forth each time we received, and how much Christ loves us personally and individually, we would literally die of happiness. (Just like Blessed Imelda). I think children are most keenly aware of this. Is that why they approach the altar with timidity and reverence and awe? Is that why it is said that the prayer of a child on his First Communion day will certainly be answered? Children seem to have a better grip than adults on the truth, beauty and wonder of this wonderful sacrament.
My daughter Grace makes her First Communion this spring, and the house is buzzing with excitement. We will finish the book about Blessed Imelda (with ample warning about its ending and reassurance beforehand that immediate death is not common) and we will add watching a movie about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Grace will wear the beautiful dress and veil that her sister wore before her, but her shoes will be new. We will go to Confession the night before the big day, and she will have practiced many, many times. As we do on only very special occasions, we will order a fancy cake with butter cream frosting from our favorite bakery. Grace can hardly wait. She has been thinking about her First Communion intention for weeks.
We adults can capture the appreciation, truth and wonder initially felt on our own First Communion day. It can be as simple as stirring up sentiments of devotion in our hearts, making a sincere act of faith, hope and love, and reminding ourselves of the awesome gift of Jesus Himself coming physically into our bodies and souls. Every communion, after all, is worth commemorating and treasuring. May God bless all first communicants this year, and may your next communion with Jesus be as special as your first.
(first published April, 2007 in Today’s Catholic)