Today and next Sunday, we have the great thrill of seeing the second grade children of our parish receive Our Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. Eighty-some years ago, my grandmother may have wondered if they truly understood the mystery deeply enough to appreciate it. If someone were to raise that question today, I think my response might be to ask if we understand it. Could we really define the term “transubstantiation” with full theological accuracy, especially when full-time theologians argue over various aspects of the term? But our second graders can grasp certain key points. First and foremost, they can know that the bread and wine really become the Body and Blood of Jesus. They know that this is not just ordinary bread; they know that this is a holy moment and that they are in direct contact with God.
To me, that point is one of the keys to First Communion, for it is one that affects each of us. When I see children preparing to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the first time, I see the wonder in their faces. I see the joy of taking part in something special. Some of them may be somewhat nervous, but overall there is an excitement that comes from becoming more deeply involved in the Church and growing closer to Jesus. And when I see that joy, I sometimes wonder how well we remember the importance of what we are doing. We have the Eucharist available to us Sunday after Sunday, and in fact the Eucharist is available every day. As our children receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time, most of us would not have a chance to figure out how many times we have received the Eucharist over the years. But we can ask if we take it for granted. Do we remember the excitement of welcoming Christ into our hearts? Do we even stop and think that this is truly the Real Presence of Christ our Risen Lord? All of us – yes, even your priests – have to admit that at times it becomes routine. I thank God that He has found many ways to remind me of just how holy the Eucharist is. Particularly, I am thankful that First Communion is one of the most powerful reminders. When I see these girls and boys taking this step in their faith, I cannot help but remember what a joyful opportunity this Eucharist is for us.
The good news was that my grandmother gave in to the priest’s pleadings and let my mother make her First Communion. Today and next weekend, we give thanks with the boys and girls of our parish who get to receive the Body of Blood of the Risen Christ for the first time.