One of the seven sacraments of the Church, indeed the greatest of the sacraments, described by the Church in this way: “The most august (magnificent) sacrament is the Most Holy Eucharist in which Christ the Lord himself is contained, offered, and received and by which the Church continually lives and grows. The eucharistic sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated through the ages is the summit and source of all worship and Christian life, which signifies and effects the unity of the People of God and brings about the building up of the body of Christ. Indeed, the other sacraments and all the ecclesiastical works of the apostolate are closely connected with the Most Holy Eucharist and ordered to it.” — Canon Law #897
Since the celebration of the Mass is for the universal and the local Church as well as for each person, the center of the whole Christian life (General Instruction of the Roman Missal #1), care must be taken that the Eucharist remain a primary focus in the life of the community. The Christian faithful are to hold the Most Holy Eucharist in highest honor, taking an active part in the celebration of the most august sacrifice, receiving this sacrament most devoutly and frequently, and worshiping it with the highest adoration. (CL #898) Anyone who is conscious of serious sin is not to receive the Eucharist without first celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation unless a grace reason stands in the way of such sacramental reconciliation. (CL #916) Once admitted to Eucharist, the faithful are obliged to receive Communion at least once a year (CL #920.1)
Subsequently the Eucharist is the foundation of the Christian life, therefore, catechesis begun in the early years is to be continued and developed throughout childhood and adolescence, so that a deepening awareness of the sacrament of Jesus’ presence develops. Since the life of faith is dynamic and a growing reality in the life of the maturing Christian, so too the understanding and appreciation of the sacrament of Eucharist is never complete at any given age. A developing catechesis appropriate to the age, ability and faith level of the person is a lifelong process.
At every Mass we are brought into the eternal sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross at Calvary. That is the power, mystery, & meaning of the Mass. – Cardinal Timothy Dolan, 11/8/15 tweet (@CardinalDolan)
“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'” (CCC #1523)
In the Gospel of John, close to the time when Jesus would celebrate the Passover meal with his disciples, we hear Jesus preparing the people for the gift of his whole self. The next day after they witness the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, they ask for another wondrous deed, something greater than what God had done for their ancestors by saving them from slavery and death in Egypt. This self-revelation of Jesus prepares us for what he would do on Holy Thursday: he took bread, gave thanks, gave the food to his disciples to share with the 5,000+ people there, and there was an abundance of bread left over. Jesus then teaches who he is, “I am the Bread of Life…I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:48-56)
This Bread of Life discourse helps us to think about what happens in the Mass today along with the Scriptures that speak of this moment. At the Passover meal, Jesus said a prayer that had never been said before: “Take it; this is my body” and with the cup, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” (Mark 14:22-24) Other references can be found in Matt. 26:17-19, 26-30; Luke 22:7-20 and 1 Cor. 11:23-25.
Holy Communion is the great gift of God himself, in his Son as our spiritual food, our source of life. He desires to remain with us always. He humbly gives us his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity so that we can be more like him. The will of God is our holiness. As a baptized community we need to model our reverence and love for the Eucharist and how receiving the Risen Jesus into our bodies transforms us as the hopeful, joyful, loving and peaceful children of God.
Preparation for First Communion
The Church extends to children who have reached the age of reason, generally around the age of seven, or second grade, the invitation to celebrate the Sacrament of Eucharist, the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation. The initiation into the Christian community that took place at baptism now is further extended by inviting children to enter fully into the heart of Christian faith through participation in the Eucharist. Here at Good Shepherd Parish, First Communion is celebrated along with the Sacrament of Reconciliation in second grade. Children who have sufficient understanding and careful preparation to appreciate the nature of the sacrament and to receive it with faith and devotion, may receive the sacrament of the Eucharist. The preparation process is offered along with First Reconciliation in response to their awareness and desire to have a more intimate relationship with Jesus. As in First Reconciliation, your child will be asked to pray about preparing for this sacrament, parents and the catechist will determine their readiness.
Children will participate in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program (atrium Level II or higher), or EDGE/Life Teen as an older student, for at least one year prior to the immediate preparation year. Continuing formation takes place within the family, as parents are the primary educators of the faith, and the parish community. Preparation began with your child’s Baptism and when you first brought him or her to Mass. Your example of your love of God, the Mass and the sacraments and their importance in your life, as well as all of their catechetical formation, has continued to prepare them for this sacrament which is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. This approach is not limited to teaching things about the sacrament, but also includes initiating the children into a Christian way of living and worshipping in a community. Catechesis leads children to discover the joy of living in communion with God and others. A child’s family and the Christian community’s day-by-day living of the Christian life becomes the first step in the child’s preparation to receive this sacrament.
Children under the age of seven tend to think concretely. They grasp concepts like “unity” and “belonging” from experiences such as sharing, listening, eating, forgiving, conversing, thanking and celebrating. This means in effect, that much of their preparation for First Eucharist is to be derived from daily experiences. (National Directory for Catechesis # 122) Such life experiences are to be coupled with explanations of Eucharist adapted to children’s intellectual capacity and accompanied by further efforts to acquaint them with the main events of Jesus’ life. Children are to be taught that Eucharist (Holy Communion) is the real body and blood of Christ. What appears to be bread and wine is actually the living and life-giving body and blood of Christ. Catechists are to teach the Eucharist is the sign of the Lord’s abiding presence, which assists in the development of a true Eucharistic devotion. Appropriate instruction on the Eucharistic fast (one hour) is also to be provided for children. Children are to be helped to participate more meaningfully in the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. This includes instruction about the meaning of the ritual, symbols and parts of the Mass.
While people are generally accustomed to communicating verbally, there are other modes of communication often used in catechesis for children and persons with developmental disabilities when verbal communication is limited. Desire to be in communion with God and others is what is most important. It is helpful to remember that a person’s receptive language is generally much greater than their expressive language after catechesis has been offered. In such situations the faith of the community suffices and the individual is welcomed at the Lord’s table.
Parents have a right and a responsibility to be intimately involved in preparing their children for First Eucharist (NDC #122). In the month of February or March, the Rite of Enrollment is held during a Sunday morning Mass, where the children and parents publicly speak their desire for the sacraments. The parish as the welcoming community is invited to pray for the children and their families through this final preparation until their First Communion celebration, usually on the first or second Saturday of May. There is a retreat for all children preparing for First Communion which is held the weekend before the sacrament celebrations. One parent must attend with their child. Beginning on a Friday evening, then continuing with Saturday morning Mass and practice in the church, after which they continue and complete their work. Since Eucharist is one of the three sacraments of Christian Initiation, the Easter season is the most appropriate liturgical time for celebrating First Communion.
First Eucharist celebrations should be prayerful and simple. The focus is welcoming children to the Lord’s table. Excessive attention to external elements such as clothes, decorations and material gifts is to be de-emphasized. At the time of the first reception of Eucharist, ordinary communion under both species is to be provided. This represents a fuller sign of the sacrament. The choice of the reverent reception of the Eucharistic Bread alone, or Bread and Wine, are to be provided.
Determining Sacramental Readiness
When you brought your child to Church to have them baptized, you promised God to help them walk as a “child of the Light…and to help keep the flame of faith alive in his/her heart.” With the gift of the Eucharist, the Word of God, still very important for life, is no longer enough to sustain us. What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. The Eucharist preserves, increases and renews the life of grace received at Baptism fostering our growth in the Christian life. You have walked with them on their spiritual journey and as the primary educators of the faith you are the ones who will know best if they are ready to celebrate their First Communion. The catechists are your helpers.
Adequate spiritual and catechetical formation is to be provided so that children, according to their age and capacity, have sufficient knowledge and appreciation of the sacrament they are to receive. Readiness is evidenced by the child’s desire to receive the Eucharist, the ability to distinguish ordinary bread and wine from the Eucharist, an understanding of the mystery of Christ, and an ability to receive Communion with faith and devotion. It is also important that the child have a familiarity with and basic understanding of the Eucharistic Liturgy and recognize the communal nature of the sacrament. Other elements of readiness are reflected by the child’s relationship with Christ, an understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist, and an appreciation of their personal involvement in the life and ministry of the Church. It is to be expected that children will respond to these aspects in a way that is appropriate to their stage of development. The reception of any sacrament may be neither forced upon or refused to those suitably prepared for it. In practice, this means that not all children may be ready for a sacrament at the same time.
Questions to begin asking and observations of my child:
My child’s relationship with God
- Does my child pray?
- How does my child pray?
- When does my child pray?
- Does he or she speak about a God who loves them?
- Does my child speak freely of his/her love for God?
- Does he or she recognize the gifts that God has given to him/her?
- Does my child speak of Jesus’ true presence in the Holy Eucharist?
- Does he/she express a desire to receive Holy Communion?
- Does he/she participate in the Holy Mass?
- Is he/she reverent before the Blessed Sacrament in Church?
- Does my child recognize the need for God in his/her life?
My child’s relationship with his or her neighbor
- Can my child distinguish actions which are right or wrong, and which ones are accidents?
- Can he/she express the difference between right and wrong in his or her own words?
- Does he/she show true sorrow for their failure to love as the Good Shepherd asks?
- Does my child understand the interrelationship among love of God, neighbor and self?
- Do they assume personal responsibility for their acts of omission?
- Do they know that sin hurts their relationship with God?
- Do they understand that the sacrament of reconciliation is a special sign of God’s forgiveness?
- Does my child understand he or she must desire to change unloving behavior, recognizing the need to ask God for help in all things?
- Does my child behave respectfully of others during Holy Mass?
- Do they participate in the Holy Mass with the entire community?