First Communion "Wars"

From time to time, I do a presentation at a Parent’s Meeting for First Communion. Usually, I go up first and offer a catechetical approach to the Eucharist. When I’m done, the DRE usually follows with specific details about the First Communion Day. It never fails – folks politely sit through my presentation and I get a few nods and smiles but relatively little reaction. THEN…folks amazingly come to life when all the details are being addressed: dress code, videotaping and picture taking policy, date and time of the celebration, and most importantly, who will be receiving at which Mass! Parents become very animated about the details surrounding the celebration. Unfortunately, their desire is often to turn the experience into a pageant (which is how many of them celebrated it as children).

At a recent meeting, parents got into debate with the DRE about the scheduling of First Communion Masses. Being a good-sized parish, the pastor and staff decided to host 2 First Communion Masses. They combine all of the children from the school and RE program and have A-L attend one celebration and M-Z the other. The ensuing discussion revealed that deep down, what some parents were asking for was a “school” event that was separate from the “CCD.”  Sound familiar? I find it very frustrating to watch these debates unfold (although thank goodness I am safely on the sidelines at that point!) and to see how DREs struggle to help parents understand the nature of First Communion as a parish celebration. With them in mind, I offer the following “open letter” to parents whose children are preparing for First Communion.

Dear Parents of First Communicants,

As the day of your child’s First Communion draws nearer, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the reasoning behind our parish’s approach to celebrating the First Communions of children in the school and in the religious education program together.

On the day that you had your child baptized, you took the first step to having him or her initiated into the Body of Christ  – the universal Church. The Sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation complete that initiation into the Body of Christ. Nowhere is the fullness of the Body of Christ more evident than in the celebration of Sunday Mass as a parish community. Your child’s First Communion is another step towards completing that full initiation into the life of the faith community. Thus, it is a parish celebration. In fact, ALL Sacraments are celebrations of the whole parish. The parish is welcoming these young people to the Table of the Lord. What matters most on the day of your child’s First Communion is the clear message that he or she is now welcome to join the parish community – and the universal Church – at the Lord’s Table.

Allow me to emphasize again: First Communion is a parish celebration. It is not a school event nor is it a religious education (CCD) event. On this wonderful day, when we celebrate the fact that the Eucharist removes all distinctions and barriers (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:28), we come together, not as a school family, not as a religious education/CCD family, but as a parish family; as the Body of Christ. We celebrate the fact that the children will be joining in what the adult community does every Sunday: come to feast at the Table of the Lord.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about my attempt to address this often thorny issue!

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. Joe, I think that your open letter effectively communicates the reasons why we shouldn’t segregate the children of the parish for sacrament preparation and for the reception of the sacraments.

    The biggest stumbling block (in addition to the parents not understanding the community nature of the sacraments) that we have had to integrating the students from the school and the RE program is a sense of entitlement among the Parish school parents. Some, certainly not all, feel that because they pay tuition and make sacrifices for their children to attend the parish school that they should be treated specially. I understand this impulse because my son is in the parish school, too, but this notion that somehow because a child goes to the parish school that they are “better” than their public school counterparts is a frustrating thing to have to deal with.

    A DRE cannot effectively shift attitudes alone. The pastor of the parish needs to be the one who initiates and explains this change, addressing these issues in his homily, at parent meetings and in his bulletin columns. It also cannot be overstated how important the full, unequivocal support of the school principal is. If the principal of the school is not vocally supportive of this type of intiative it can fracture a parish–maybe not seriously–but there will be a fissure.

  2. Our Archdiocese has it in their guidelines that parishes may NOT host a separate Mass for school families.

    Last year we had a nightmare when school families all selected the Saturday afternoon Mass. It turned into brouhaha because they didn’t see the larger picture.

    I understand the desire to put families together that know eachother but what a great way for families to bond with others – to be a part of this special day for their children?

    Not glad anyone else faces this but… glad to know it’s not just parents here that need education on the PARISH process.

  3. Thank you so much for addressing this! It’s comforting to hear that others are struggling with this same issue. What I’ve found even more frustrating has been the realization that many of our parish school families are resistant to having their child receive First Communion at the Sunday masses with the parish because they aren’t going to mass on Sunday at all. How do you reach families who, while sending their child to our Catholic school, don’t practice their faith in the home?

  4. Your open letter is very well written; however I share a different opinion. My child attends a parish school and is getting ready to receive First Holy Communion. As part of her curriculum, she attends regular religion classes in addition to additional Sacrament preparation classes for Reconcilation and First Holy Communion. The DRE expects me to attend 5 classes towards her preparation and my daughter is expected to attend two retreats with the children from Religious Education (she does not know any of the children).

    I have been to two of the meetings and so far the DRE tells the parents what she has been doing to prepare the children for the Sacraments. The DRE is not preparing my child for the Sacraments so therefore this does not apply to me. I am preparing my child outside of the RE program and therefore feel that as “one Parish” then it should be an acceptance that BOTH programs are following the proper protocol and therfore should show up for one meeting to line up and learn how to walk, sit, etc. I should not be expected to have the DRE program forced upon my family with the threat my child will not be able to receive if both of us don’t attend every meeting. In my opinion, this is not a sense of entitlement as I don’t expect the RE students to follow my daughter’s program in addition to their own program.

    If the DRE does not want to accept our program, then that is why a Parish should hold two dates for the Sacraments.

    • How fortunate am I that my parish no longer has a grammar school! Due to budget constraints we have been forced to close our school and we now put ALL children in the Parish Religious Ed. program. We have ONE First Communion for ALL of our children. Everyone receives the same instruction. And we have some excellent catechists who devote their time, talent and yes treasure to teaching our young people and their families about the Church and her teachings.

      Above all we the change has forced everyone to drop the mine and thine attitudes and adopt an much larger US attitude.

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