A child’s First Holy Communion is a special, shared event that follows a long period of instruction and guidance from family, priests, teachers, and catechists. It is a defining moment to be cherished and remembered forever.
When parents present their child for Baptism they make a vow that they will be ‘the first and best teachers of their child in the ways of faith’. By bringing their children to receive their First Holy Communion, parents are fulfilling that promise.
Each year, as a new set of children register for the First Communion and First Reconciliation programme, there is a minimal expectation that their families are practising their faith and that they regularly attend Mass. Even so, it is hoped that seeds of an enduring spirituality are sown and that during this time a happy by-product of the course will be the strengthening or re-kindling of the faith of the accompanying adults.
When the big day finally dawns, the excitement and happiness of everyone passing through the church doors is palpable as the many months of preparation are brought to fruition. All too often, however, and all too quickly, once the instruction and celebrations have ended, the numbers attending Mass dwindle. It is a lamentable fact which saddens the clergy that, regardless of their best efforts, the 21st century congregations are depleted and diminishing.
Yet, happily, the message has been spread and will remain with many of the Communicants who will carry the love of God in their lives and in their ‘stored memories’.
Some years ago I was privileged to join a group of people taking refreshments to the homeless, to those who had fallen on hard times, on the streets of Liverpool. The sandwiches distributed by the team were a real labour of love; they took hours to prepare, and they were also given with love. Only after the food had been presented to the individuals – of all faiths and none – were they asked if they would like the group to pray with them. Sometimes they declined, and that response was always totally respected, but most accepted the offer joyfully.
It was poignant to observe the number of people who were stirred by the experience and responded with tears in their eyes that they had been ‘reminded of my First Communion Day’. The look of recognition on their faces as they heard and joined in with the traditional prayers, and their sheer delight at being able to remember and recite the words, was always particularly moving.
To witness the comfort, pride, solace and the sense of belonging that the prayers evoked in their hearts and souls, and the way their faces lit up as they prayed, is something that I never want to forget. It is a deeply moving tribute to that special time that, amid the many trials involved in trying to survive the squalor of street life, the memories of a First Holy Communion Day can evoke such a reaction. Many years may have passed since a First Communion, and there may not even have been a second, but the memories of the unconditional love, kindness, support and attention received then can strengthen and sustain a soul even now – or maybe I should say especially now, just when they need it most.