June 19, 2020

The love of the Eucharist shines through in readers’ stories

Ashley and Andrew Wells share a light moment with their daughter Olivia during a June 13 Mass at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis at which Olivia received her first Communion. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Ashley and Andrew Wells share a light moment with their daughter Olivia during a June 13 Mass at Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis at which Olivia received her first Communion. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

(Editor’s note: The Criterion invited readers to share their special memories of their first Communion and also to share the special meaning that the Eucharist has in their lives. This is the last of the three-part series. See Part One and Part Two)

By John Shaughnessy

Pauline Lancaster is quick to share two of the great blessings in her life, starting with the fact that all four of her grown children still attend Mass weekly with their families.

The other blessing, in her view, is that all four children received their first Communion at home.

That family tradition started with their sons, Nick and Patrick, in the late 1970s when Pauline’s husband Steve was serving in the military in Charlottesville, Va. One of the options for receiving the sacrament for the first time was during a Mass in the child’s home.

“If they chose a home Mass, some parishioners needed to be included, as they are the child’s parish family, and they offer support and encouragement,” Pauline recalls. “My husband and I thought a home Mass would give our children a chance to be more involved in the ceremony.

“It would also be a great learning experience for them to be so close to the priest and see what was happening. We used our four children’s baptismal candles on our altar, making sure they all knew they were included. The child making their first Communion read one of the readings and helped make the eucharistic bread.”

That tradition continued for their daughters, Polly and Stephanie, when Steve’s military assignment led the family to live in Germany in the early 1980s.

“We were fortunate that our priests allowed us to continue the home Mass tradition for them,” Pauline says. “Even though we moved between the two events, some of our friends had moved to the same location and were present for both events.”

Now members of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville, the Lancasters still cherish the memories of having their children’s first Communions at home with close friends.

“Our families were far away so most could not come,” Pauline notes. Having this sacrament celebrated in our home made us feel we were among family.”

The joy and the wonder

The small book is worn after 65 years, but that just adds to the story of how much Dee Janik’s love for the Eucharist pours from her heart.

“I still have my first Communion prayer book, Jesus, Make Me Worthy,” Janik says. “Albeit, 65 years have given this remembrance a time-worn appearance, but I cherish this tiny book with all my heart and still read it.”

At the same time, Janik’s love for the Eucharist has also deepened as an adult. Her joy and wonder for the sacrament shines through in the way she describes her role as one of the coordinators of the eucharistic adoration ministry at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis.

“Each time one steps into the sacristy, candles are lit on and beside the altar,” she notes. “The monstrance is set on the altar, front and center. And the tabernacle is open to bring out and place the luna in the monstrance.” (The luna is the object that holds the Blessed Sacrament, which is placed in the monstrance.)

“I was holding our Lord the Christ in my hands!”

Janik has also started to anticipate the first Communion of her oldest grandchild in the spring of 2021. It shows again that the story of her love for the Eucharist is ever new.

“So many memories and the promise of spring in the air,” she says. “Best of all is knowing Jesus is coming to me, my family and friends—to our souls. The Eucharist is our Lord, body, blood, soul and divinity.”

‘Jesus, I love you’

The impact of receiving her first Communion has stayed with LaVerne Weston for nearly 75 years.

So has the prayer she learned when she first received the Eucharist: “Jesus, I love you. Thank you for coming to me. Every hour, I will think of you. Ugly thoughts, words and actions keep far away from me. I wish to receive Holy Communion every week.”

“I was taught this prayer to say after receiving my first Communion,” notes Weston, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Lawrenceburg who turned 81 on May 5.

“I have been saying this since the second grade. I’ve said it after each Communion I’ve received.”

‘I wanted to be part of it’

Debbie Hartman’s detailed memories of her first Communion even extend to the weather.

“It poured rain that morning,” she notes about that April day in 1961 in St. Mark the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. “I had looked forward to my first Communion for a long time. It seemed so grown up to me, and I wanted to be part of it.

“We had prepared at school for quite awhile and understood how special it was to be close to Jesus. We made our first confession. I enjoyed my special prayer book and rosary to carry in the little white purse the girls received.

“Mom and Dad had planned a family party that afternoon at our house. Plans changed when my brother came down with the measles. The party was moved to my grandparents’ house, and Dad took me to the party. Mom had to stay home with Mark, and I missed them being there.”

Fifty-nine years have passed, but she says she still has that desire to “experience Christ in the Eucharist.”

‘This beauty has changed me’

Maria Cossell becomes poetic when she describes the impact that eucharistic adoration has on her.

“Beauty is in a small consecrated host within a golden monstrance,” Cossell notes. “That is where the true essence of beauty can be found. God, who became man and was brutally killed, has left us with his heart. His heart is the source of love and mercy that is the balm to the wounds of humanity.

“This beauty I see stirs my heart. I am drawn to it like a newborn baby to its mother. I long to be redeemed and healed—to tell others about my encounter with God. I long to become what I experience, to give myself to others without a forethought of what suffering I may or may not endure.”

A member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, Cossell longs for others to share this feeling.

“This beauty has changed me and has the ability to change the world. Will you open your eyes to this beauty?” †

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