Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we close the spring celebrations of the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation, I have been deeply moved by the devotion and reverence of our young people, especially those children who received the Eucharist for the first time. Before each First Communion Mass, I spoke with the children who, naturally, shared a mix of feelings: excitement, nervousness, curiosity, and more. Watching the care with which they received Holy Communion was a real blessing and a reminder to me, personally, of the gift of the Eucharist in our lives.
Do you remember the day of your First Holy Communion? Do you remember how carefully you dressed, how you folded your hands, how cautious you were when receiving the Body of our Lord in the Host? As I gave the children the Eucharist for the first time, I wondered how well I have retained that sincere, child-like reverence I tried for on the day of my First Communion. In all honesty, sometimes my approach to the Eucharist is routine. There are times when, out of habit or familiarity, I do not show the reverence Jesus deserves, or am not as engaged in the celebration of the Mass as I ought to be. How to regain that sense of awe and reverence? How to maintain that child-like attitude while still striving for an adult, mature faith in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist?
First, it is good for us to remember the day of our First Communion. If, as we prepare to join the procession toward the altar for Communion, we can call to mind what we did the day we received for the first time, we can go back in our memory to that simpler faith and attitude. Second, from that memory, we can allow ourselves to adopt again the posture of our First Communion, by very simply folding our hands in prayer. This physical act sends a message to our own mind and heart to recall what we are about to do, and a message to those around us that says that what (and Who) we are about to receive is sacred. Third, from that memory, we can call to mind the care with which we received. If we receive on the tongue, we remember to make a sign of reverence and an act of faith as we are fed the Bread of Life. If we receive in the hand, we remember to hold our hands as a throne, lifted and flat, left hand extended with the right hand immediately underneath it, so that the Eucharist will not be dropped, and to consume the Host immediately with our right hand. With this care, we remind ourselves to show Jesus the honor and respect He deserves from us, and to humbly give thanks to God for this tremendous sacramental gift. Our hands should never be side-by-side, or held at an angle. We should never close our fingers over the host as if making a fist. We should never try to receive with only one hand. Rather, remembering that day we first received, we should follow the example we once set for ourselves and receive with child-like joy and reverence. Finally, as we approach the altar, let receiving Holy Communion be our primary focus and concern. Ignore (in the best possible sense) the people around you. If you have young children with you, perhaps some whispered words of preparation and instruction before joining the procession can help them to walk prayerfully alongside you. Free yourself from any physical distractions like car keys, tissues, or bags. Whenever possible, approach with empty hands as a reminder that we depend on God for all good things (keeping in mind, of course, that it is often necessary to carry children or hold their hands while moving in the church!).
The Second Vatican Council’s document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, declares that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith. The children of our parish have received this beautiful sacrament for the first time, and their reverence ought to inspire us all to come to the altar with similar devotion. May their example help us to be renewed in our own love for Jesus who pours out His mercy and grace in the Eucharist!