We can support the parents and reinforce the meaning of the event in various ways.
We are at that time of year when many parishes are celebrating baptisms, weddings, and First Holy Communions. Children will remember their First Communion as a very special event: they’ve been preparing for it through catechism programs for a long time, so they will (one hopes!) have grasped at least a little of its importance. Plus, it’s something the entire family has likely been talking about and preparing for. They probably also have other friends and cousins who are making their First Communion.
If you’ve been invited to a First Communion, what’s expected of you? Whether or not we’ve been going to church regularly, we all want this to be a special day for the children who are receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time. To help make that day memorable for the children and their families, consider the following suggestions.
1The most important thing isn't the gifts.
Of course, children love to receive gifts from the guests at the event, but that’s not the main point of the day. What matters most is what is happening — the gift of the Eucharist. We can help children understand that by means the messages we include in the card accompanying our gifts, and in the words we say to them.
2Talk with their parents about the gifts.
This way we can be sure to buy something that’s in harmony with the way the parents are planning the celebration of First Communion. Some parents like guests to give a monetary gift, whereas others prefer we make a donation to a good cause in the child’s name. Still others may ask us to contribute to buying a scapular, a rosary, or a holy medal for the child, which is a gift that can reinforce the meaning of the event and can last a lifetime.
3Make the day easier for the parents.
On the day of the First Communion, the children’s parents have a thousand things to think about. It’s fantastic if they can count on us to help with logistics, such as helping other guests get to the event. If the family is large, it might help if we can shuttle family members from the house to the church, or from the church to the venue of the celebration afterwards. If we can offer ourselves to help in this or some other practical way, it can really make a difference.
4Get to the church on time!
On an occasion such as a First Communion, it’s particularly important that all the guests and family members be at the church sufficiently ahead of time, before the beginning of the Mass That way, we’re prepared for any unforeseen problems with traffic, or any oversight that might make us have to go back home to pick someone or something up.
So s not to disrupt the Mass, be sure to turn your cell phone off before it starts. This will help you to join in the celebration both internally and externally. First Communion can be a convenient occasion to return to church after a long absence and if so, we can take advantage of the occasion to go to confession beforehand, if we haven’t been in a while. This way, we’ll be prepared to receive Communion worthily, and we’ll be joining the children in their path of prayer and the sacraments, retracing the steps of our own First Communion.
6Take advantage of the occasion to strengthen family ties.
We may see family members whom we haven’t seen in a long time. It’s a great occasion to catch up and to express our love for them in person, especially if geographical distances usually separate us. It might also be an occasion to smooth over difficult situations from the past, which may entail us taking the first step. Communion is a sacrament of unity; let’s try to make that unity visible, and not just during Mass.
The most important thing to remember is that this is a celebration centered on the children experiencing for the first time the most important of the sacraments, the Eucharist, which is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11). They will receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, sealing and strengthening their profound personal relationship with Him. Everything in the celebration should point to that reality. The children’s ability to grasp its significance will vary according to their spiritual maturity and their preparation, which is out of our hands, but we should do what we can to make it an experience where the kids and their parents can focus on the joyful occasion at hand.