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!