By TERRI PIAZZA-PANUCCIO
In his homily of June 3, 1999, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, St. Pope John Paul II wrote, “God did not spare his Son, but gave him as the salvation of all, as the bread we must eat if we wish to have life. Christ’s words are clear: to have life it is not enough to believe in God; it is necessary to dwell in him. This is why the Word was made flesh, died and rose and gave us his spirit; this is why he left us the Eucharist, so that we could live on him as he lives on the Father. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the gift Christ made of himself for us: he is the sacrament of love and peace, which is the fullness of life.”
On May 5, 31 of our young parishioners will join us at the Eucharistic table for the first time to receive that special gift of himself that Christ gave to us almost 2,000 years ago in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Receiving First Communion is a big deal and should be treated as such. The children are receiving Jesus into their bodies and souls, becoming one with Him.
Preparing for the First Communion is a two-year process. Children are required, by the diocese and our parish, to attend a full year of Faith Formation classes or attend a parochial school as a first-grader before they can begin their formal preparation to receive the sacraments of First Reconciliation and First Communion as a second-grader.
As a child prepares to receive his or her first sacraments, regular attendance to their Sunday morning Faith Formation classes and Monday evening sacramental preparation classes is extremely important. The catechetical program we use for grades K-6, the Pflaum Gospel Weeklies, are liturgically based using the Gospel reading of the week. This helps the children grow and learn in their Catholic faith and its teachings. The sacramental preparation classes are to help the children have a greater understanding of the two sacraments they will receive.
For their Reconciliation preparation, they are taught about Jesus’ love, mercy and forgiveness through scripture. Once they have received that sacrament, they begin preparing for First Communion.
The children learn about belonging to a parish community and how they became a member through Baptism. They learn how we celebrate Mass and how Jesus becomes present in gifts of bread and wine during the consecration. This is why we strongly encourage regular Mass attendance.
There also is a three-hour workshop the children attend with their parents where they make chalices, pew banners and participate in a church search.
Another very important part of preparation for the children is to attend our Holy Thursday Mass. It is a great teaching moment because it is the night we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist as the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and the institution of the sacrament of priesthood.
It also is an important Mass where we are called to serve one another. At the end of this Mass the children join in the solemn procession as the Blessed Sacrament is taken to the place of repose. This year, as Father Cesta carried our Lord to the tabernacle, the children joined together saying, “O sacrament most holy, O sacrament divine, all praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment thine.”
There are times that I am met with some resistance from parents who are overwhelmed with already busy schedules for their children, especially when they sometimes have to bring their children to class two days a week. As a mother of three, I remember how hectic and full our lives and schedules were, so I do understand how they feel.
It’s important, however, to help parents and families know that these requirements are put in place to help us ensure that the children have a good knowledge of the importance of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion.
When a child participates in sports, dance, gymnastics or other extracurricular activities, they never would be allowed to participate in a game, recital or meet without having first attended classes or practiced, often-times for months.
The same goes when receiving the sacraments. In order for the child to receive these gifts of God’s grace, they have to be prepared and have knowledge of what they are receiving so that when they do receive our Lord in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, they will truly become like him and be a blessing to others they meet along life’s journey.
Terri Piazza-Panuccio is Faith Formation director for kindergarten through sixth grade.