Tuesday, 14 January 2014
A Story of First Holy Communions
We used to have wonderful First Holy Communion days. In my mum’s time, when Mass was celebrated in a mysterious language and with solemnity, whole classes of 25 children received their First Holy Communion, and about 95% of them were at Mass the following Sunday and beyond. Then came the 1970’s, when we were able to join in the responses and sing jolly hymns. Whole classes still received their First Holy Communion, and half of them were at Mass the following Sunday and beyond. Then came the 1990’s; whole classes still received their First Holy Communion, but only three or four were at Mass the following Sunday and beyond. To make the children feel special and valuable we were doing little and interpretative ‘dances’ or mimes on the Sanctuary after Communion (to enthusiastic applause); we were standing around the altar with Father for the Eucharistic Prayer, and deemed holy and special enough to receive the Lord in our hand while standing before Him. What a contrast to the level of practice in the days when Mass was celebrated in a mystical language; when we knelt before Lord to honour Him, and were overawed by the fact that He was coming into our mouths and our hearts through the consecrated hands of his priest.
We were pleased when a former Bishop of our Diocese moved preparation for Holy Communion out of the schools and into the parishes. When a new priest arrived we took the opportunity to set up a programme by which parents asked for an Application Form for First Communion after Sunday Mass. (In this Form, while providing as a small section on core aspects of the Faith, we gained the family and child details, and discovery of who was going to bring the child to Mass on Sundays, teach them to pray and live the Christian life). The children met with us weekly to work through a Preparation Book, during which time we taught them to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling, explaining that reception on the hand is allowed by permission from Rome but isn’t the rule; that they may receive Our Lord that way afterwards though we recommend the practice of the centuries.
Then preparation was moved back to the schools, with parish involvement reduced to one meeting a month with a monthly liturgy attached to Sunday Mass. Last year was the first time this took place, and though a several parents took application Forms, none were returned and no children brought for preparation. When parishioners began asking the date of First Holy Communions, Father placed a notice in the Bulletin saying we had no applicants. It was then the school told us we did indeed have First Communicants, but that they had chosen to go to another parish. Though we were saddened not to have been informed by the other parish and receive no enquiries as to the baptism of the children, we naturally congratulated the children in the Bulletin on the weekend of their First Holy Communion. One of them comes to Mass regularly; we hope the others are going elsewhere.
What is the point of this post? To lament the failure in First Communion Preparation; the huge drop in practice since the introduction of child-centred liturgy; and the loss both in the mystery of the Mass and the ritual honour given to the Lord. How can we expect the children to value Mass as the Mystery of Faith and Heaven on earth if we remove the mystery? How can we expect the children to honour the sovereignty of God if we stand before Him as equals, receiving Him as we might receive a gold coin? Indeed we want children to know they are loved and valued by God; to rejoice that He wants to be intimately united to them in Holy Communion. Perhaps to present the Mystery of the Mass with some use of the sacred language, and to declare the superior dignity of the Lord by receiving Him kneeling will help the children to gain that experience of being love by God and rejoice at the desire of the all-holy God to be united to them. We cannot deny that today’s methods and liturgies are failing them, since practice falls year after year.