By Barb Arland-Fye
One child, looking like a miniature bride, held her gloved hands together in prayer throughout Mass. I don’t think a smile left her face during this liturgy at which she and 11 peers celebrated their first Communion. I could see all 12 of them from my spot in the choir at Our Lady of the River Catholic Church in LeClaire. The kids focused intently on Father Joe Wolf’s prayers and actions during the sun-lit Mass on April 24. They raised their hands eagerly when he stood before them during his homily, asking questions about the Eucharist. I pray that these young Catholics will experience a sense of gratitude each time they receive the Eucharist, just as I have for the past 50 years since my first Communion.
When I returned home from church, I went into the family room and looked at four photos on a shelf. One shows a solemn-faced Colin, my older son, in suit and tie on the day of his first Communion 21 years ago. Another photo shows his smiling younger brother, Patrick, also wearing a dress shirt and tie on the day of his first Communion 13 years ago. It took a small miracle to get either child to wear a tie.
The other two photos show me on the day of my first Communion. In one I’m walking in procession with my classmates at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St. Paul, Minn. The second photo shows me posing with two younger brothers in our front yard. The photos are dated May 1966. We don’t have a first Communion photo for my husband Steve because he made his first Communion as an adult at the Easter Vigil Mass a month before our marriage.
We don’t remember the specific details of receiving Communion for the first time, but all four of us believe the Eucharist is essential to our lives. Receiving the Eucharist “makes me feel complete,” Steve says. “That’s why I make a point of going to the nursing home on Fridays (to distribute Communion). Those people look forward to that.”
Receiving Communion helps Patrick feel closer to God. “Jesus is with you,” he says. “Communion is establishing that relationship.” Even though Jesus is present in both species, Colin, because of his autism, panics if he can’t receive both. After his paternal grandmother died nearly four years ago, Colin told us that Grandma Bootsie and Grandpa Bill were in heaven together having Communion with Jesus. Bootsie wasn’t Catholic. Colin doesn’t understand the theology of the Eucharist; he just knows what God wants for all of us.
“We who through the Eucharist partake of what was baked as one bread seek to be made more fully one in Christ and with each other as members of Christ’s body, the church,” observes theologian Msgr. Kevin Irwin in his book, “Models of Eucharist.”
Theologian Tim O’Malley shares this quote from retired Pope Benedict XVI about Eucharist that I also find helpful. “The content of the Eucharist, what happens in it, is the uniting of Christians, bringing them from their state of separation into the unity of the one Bread and the one Body. The Eucharist is … the living process through which, time and again, the Church’s activity of becoming Church takes place.” (Liturgy and the New Evangelization)
I think it’s fitting that 12 children, just like the 12 apostles of Christ, celebrated their first Eucharist in community. May it be the first of many times they celebrate Eucharist with all of us, their family of faith.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)