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. 


  1. During my preparation for my first Holy Communion in the 1950s the parish priest explained to the children that when he reached into the tabernacle he was reaching into heaven because the Son of God was there. it was such an awesome description that I have never forgotten it.

    My grandchildren attend Catholic schools,. About three months ago the younger one (aged 11) asked me quite solemnly if she was a Catholic. I was astounded. On Boxing Day I asked the older one (aged 14) whether she had been to Mass on Christmas Day. The answer was no. I explained in fairly simple terms that Christ-mas was the Mass of Christ. 'REALLY', she said. This was news to her. These children have attended nothing but 'Catholic' schools and have both had visits to the Youth Village where they had 'a great time'. Youth Masses and Children's Masses have been an absolute disaster for our young people and have effectively killed their faith.

    I would like to know exactly what is being taught in our 'Catholic' schools in pretence of it being RI, or RE as it is now called. It is the great responsibility of the bishops to monitor the teaching of the faith in our schools, along with the co-operation of parish priests, and the evidence is overwhelming that they have failed abjectly. They should consider their positions and resign if they are unable to fulfil even their most basic function.

    I must remain anonymous to protect my grandchildren.

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I think you hit the bulls-eye on a couple of points.

      I don’t think our clergy or teachers are malicious but do think many have fallen into making education all about how special the children are, and making Liturgy into something that should be enjoyed.

      And because it’s a common phenomenon throughout the Church, laity and clergy who teach or celebrate this way continue to be affirmed in it and probably find it difficult to see its flaws; making those who attempt more ‘time-served’ methods appear out of touch with present-day, though present-day methods are not gaining or even retaining souls.

      With prayers.

  2. Andrew,
    I think you are doing something of an injustice to the many Bishops, priests, Catechists and teachers who have given hours and hours of time to working with our Catholic children. Over the years such folk have given much time and energy doing the best they can for in preparing the children for First Holy Communion. Surely our Bishops have not used bad Catechetical materials in our schools and parishes, and surely the children should enjoy their First Holy Communion day?

    1. Thanks for the comment, SA.
      I don't say that they have not given many hours of dedicated work, only that the direction they have taken has not given the results they hoped for or promised: children are not convicted in their Faith and solid in practising it. In fact the opposite is painfully true: young people are dismissing their faith and leaving it behind. We need catechesis that truly informs them about the what and the why of all aspects of the Faith, and a liturgy that demonstrates the sovereignty of God so as to inspire them rather than entertain them. And entertainment is the thing they seek, hence when they get a normal, work-a-day Mass they call it boring.

    2. SA - if I may make an observation: the materials used in preparing children to receive FHC (and Confession) are usually at the discretion of the parish priest, or the school; not all bishops mandate the use of one particular programme. In all the parishes I have arrived in, I found a seriously flawed programme in use and had to change it: one area where they inevitably slip up is in their explanation of what the Holy Eucharist is, such as using language like "after the consecration, Jesus is now present in the bread and wine". The books are therefore useless in terms of Catholic formation, but I know parishes where such materials are still being used.

    3. Thank you for the comment, Father,

      Our own parish priest (Fr Dickson) said the same after reading the comment from S.A. He thinks that the flaw now lies with the materials and with those doing the formation, since they themselves were formed with flawed materials and theology over the last decades and as such, can no longer recognise errors.

  3. Here we go again. We (Catholics in general, some priests & teachers in particular) are 'dumbing down' Holy Communion not only for First Communicants but for older Catholics who should know better. The beginnings of this process is the distribution of Holy Communion in the hand, followed closely by Communion under both species.
    If we (all of us) truly believed in the Real Presence we would not dream of touching the Body & Blood of Christ with our totally unworthy hands nor would we take Communion unnecessarily under both species. I was taught the "the Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity of Christ is in even the tiniest fraction of the Host when consecrated or drop of the Precious Blood". Receiving Communion in the hand would fill me with terror. I once asked a senior cleric of this diocese if I could receive on the tongue as my hands were unworthy. His response shocked me; "Hold out your hands & I'll bless them for you." This, from a senior cleric, makes me wonder whether all of our clergy actually believe in the Real Presence themselves.

    1. Thanks for the comment David.
      I think Holy Communion in the hand cheapens our respect for the Blessed Sacrament (Our Lord), Still, as one priest pointed out, we commit far more sins with the tongue than we do with the hand (though by that logic we would never receive Our Lord at all since He always passes the tongue!)

  4. I am 74 and mourn the loss of the Roman Catholic Mass as my ancestors knew it. A conquerer knows that in order to destroy a people he must separate them from both their language and their Religion since he is defined by both. Latin was the language by which Roman catholics were known. Our language was taken from us as one would amputate an arm. Then the Mass as we knew it was completely taken from our lives. To this day we who loved both feel the terrible phantom pain of that amputation deep in our souls. Our Bishops and priests have derided us for expressing that loss.
    We feel the pain at every Mass of the Novus ordo. The lack of reverence, the chatting during Mass and the continual singing
    of hymns leaving no time to pray. May God forgive the people who did this.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Talisin.
      I discovered the Traditional Mass nine years ago and had never even heard of it before then. I understand that you feel the loss of such a beautiful and strong Rite of Mass. I feel disturbed that what my ancestors had for 1500 years was denied to me on the whim of a few 'experts' fifty years ago. No one has the right to deny later generations their rightful heritage as they tried to deny the Traditional Mass to all who were born after 1970.


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