May 6, 2005

First Communion helps renew
love for the Eucharist

By Sean Gallagher

(Editor’s note: The Catholic Church is observing the Year of the Eucharist. This article is part of a Criterion series exploring the importance of the Eucharist in all facets of the life of the archdiocese.)


A church filled with people watching young girls in fancy white dresses and young boys in shiny new suits receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament for the first time—such are some of the memories that many of us have of our own, our children’s or our grandchildren’s first Communion.

Most parishes across the archdiocese have celebrated this tradition once again this spring during the Year of the Eucharist.

At 3 p.m. on June 12 at Victory Field in Indianapolis, Catholics from across the archdiocese will honor the children who have received their first Communion this year at “The Year of the Eucharist: Celebrating the Body of Christ.”

The girls and boys will participate in a eucharistic procession at the stadium led by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein.

In his apostolic letter “Mane nobiscum Domine” (“Stay with us Lord”), which opened the Year of the Eucharist, the late Pope John Paul II expressed his hope that this year might be a time where we “grow in awareness of the incomparable treasure which Christ has entrusted to his Church” (#29).

Several people connected to this year’s first Communion celebrations said that this annual tradition does just that for everyone involved in it, not simply for the children and their families who are in its spotlight.

Benedictine Father Severin Messick, ­pastor of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, said that the excitement of the young children receiving Communion for the first time can rekindle a love for the Eucharist in those of us who have been receiving it for many years.

“Seeing their fervor helps me maybe to increase my fervor because human nature being what it is, sometimes we can become lackadaisical,” he said. “And so whenever we have celebrations like this, like a first Communion, it can help us regain our fervor if our hearts have perhaps grown a little cold.”

Julia Murphy, a first-grader who is taught at home by her mother, Christina Murphy, certainly showed that excitement to everyone she met in the days leading up to her first Communion on April 30 at St. Michael Church in Greenfield.

“I’ve been counting down days and I’ve been telling everyone,” she said.

Christina Murphy, in an interview before her daughter’s first Communion, commented on how her involvement in preparing her for the sacrament helped her approach it anew from a child’s perspective.

“It’s just helped me in that when you teach a child about one of the sacraments, you teach them in very simple terms,” she said. “And so sometimes, it’s just easier to go back and just look back in the very simplest forms. Every once in a while, it’s just very good to go back to the basics.”

Paula Richey, the coordinator of youth and family ministries at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield, echoed Christina Murphy’s reaction, saying adults can benefit from observing the way children appreciate the Eucharist.

“I think that children more than adults are able to accept faith for what it is,” she said. “I think they understand more than we give them credit for. I think that they understand faith as something we can’t put our arms around and we can’t grasp sometimes.”

This chance for the rest of the faithful to have their love for the Eucharist renewed by witnessing 7- and 8-year-olds receiving Communion for the first time has not been a universal practice in the life of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.

For much of the first thousand years of the history of the Church, all three sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist—were bestowed in the same liturgy, even for infants. To this day, this continues to be the practice for Eastern Catholics.

But in the Middle Ages, the time for first reception of Communion in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church was gradually moved to the teenage years. This was done in large part because of the perceived need for a clear understanding of the sacrament before its reception.

This practice continued into the first years of the 20th century until Pope St. Pius X in 1910 allowed for first Communion to be celebrated at an earlier age.

So strong was his appreciation of the good that can come to children through reception of Communion that he said that restricting it to a later age “must be absolutely discouraged.”

From his experience in preparing young people for first Communion, John Jacobi, administrator of religious education and youth minister at St. Michael Parish in Bradford, has come to value the changes that Pope Pius made.

“[Communion] brings us closer to the Lord,” he said. “That day that we celebrate in our parish with our second-graders, it just calls that to mind. And I think that’s perhaps why Pius X wanted so badly to lower the age of when we receive Communion because why not begin that relationship, that intense relationship, at the age of reason?”

Second-grader Jason Murner received Communion for the first time at St. Michael Parish in Bradford on May 1. In an interview a few days before, Jason spoke about his anticipation of his special day.

“All my life I’ve wanted to have the body and blood of Jesus, and I’ll finally get to have it,” he said. “I think it will be very special.”

Jason’s father, Timothy Murner, had a unique appreciation for the importance of his first Communion. Murner is the music director at St. Michael Parish in Bradford and said that the occasion was significant enough to bring out “all the guns” for it—a combined choir, trumpet, French horn and clarinet.

“Every Mass is special,” he said, “but the sacraments really need to be emphasized in our parish so that not only will the children who are receiving their first Communion learn how important it is, but also the congregation in general. … That’s one of the reasons why I think we really need to make this a really big event.”

First Communion on the evening of April 30 at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield was certainly a big event for Julia Murphy. She said that for her it was “cool” to have “Jesus in my body now.”

Julia received the Precious Blood for the first time from her grandfather, Wayne Davis, who served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion at the Mass.

Davis, a member of St. Michael Parish in Greenfield who is a deacon aspirant in the archdiocesan deacon formation program, said that, as a grandfather, he had “tremendous pride and joy” in being such a close witness to his granddaughter’s first Communion.

But whereas others in speaking about first Communion spoke about its present celebration or how those now can bring back memories of those that happened in the past, Davis looked to the future, saying that during the Mass he prayed that Julia might “never, never leave that sacrament.”

“That’s what’s so sad about so many who don’t practice their faith,” Davis said. “If they’d remember their first Communion day, they’d never want to leave it.”

John Jacobi, who over the years has helped many children prepare for first Communion, hopes, like Davis, that they cling to the appreciation of the Blessed Sacrament that they show forth for all to see on their first Communion.

“I just hope that they remember the day,” he said. “We talk about beginning that relationship at baptism, but this day really marks a milestone in that journey that we’re all on. So if the children somehow feel that love that God has for them in a very special way on their first Communion day, I just hope they hang onto that.” †


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