Every year, the number one question from my second graders as they prepare for First Holy Communion is, “Mrs. Coleman, what does it taste like? My brother said it tastes like paper.” My typical response to this concern is, “Does your brother often eat paper?”
My concerns as a catechist are a bit different than the children’s. The closer we get to First Eucharist, the more I worry: Are they ready? Do they truly understand?
The one thing any First Communicant needs to know is that Jesus Christ is really and truly present in the Eucharist—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. At the beginning of our year together, I tell the class that the most important thing they will learn this year is that the Eucharist really is Jesus Christ. I repeat this throughout the year. Several years ago I emphasized this by closing the classroom door and shouting, “It’s really Jesus!”
I am fairly sure it more shocked the kids than impressed them about the truth of the Real Presence. To help them understand that truth, I’ve realized that I have to help them know who Jesus is. The ultimate goal of my time with them is to help them come to know Jesus. I always try to keep in mind that I am not there just to help them learn about Jesus but to help them know Jesus himself. I do that by focusing on prayer and Scripture.
I teach the children the traditional prayers of the Church, but I also invite them to share their personal prayer intentions when we gather at our prayer table at the close of our class time. Another fruitful way to pray with them has been guided meditations. I use the guided meditations that come with our Eucharist textbook and add others drawn from Praying with Scripture or Praying My Faith. Guided meditations are a great opportunity for children to experience quiet and listening in prayer. There is nothing more heartening after finishing a guided meditation than to hear a child ask, “Can we do this again next week?”
In addition to prayer, we read and discuss the Scripture stories included in our text, and we reflect on the Gospel for the upcoming Sunday, using resources such as Sunday Connection. I also lead lessons about Jesus’ life that correspond to the seasons of the liturgical year. During the Christmas season I lead a lesson on Jesus’ birth, starting with the Annunciation. In January, I offer a separate lesson on the Epiphany and Flight to Egypt. During Lent I teach a lesson on the Stations of the Cross and another on the events of Holy Week to explore as much as possible the core of our faith. This culminates in lessons on the story of the Resurrection and Pentecost. These lessons help the children meet Jesus throughout the year.
We celebrate First Holy Communion at my parish at a specific regular Sunday Mass or at the more typical large Saturday Mass. Last year, one of my students was very clear about which Mass she wanted to make her First Communion. “I want to receive Jesus on Good Friday and Easter,” she told me. I had no doubt—she knew the Real Presence.
What are your experiences preparing children for First Holy Communion?