Little babies receive Holy Communion in Eastern Catholic Churches. How do you like that? Mark Shea tells a wonderful story about a man who was scandalized when he found out about this practice. “How can you give the Eucharist to little children?” he demanded of the priest. “They can’t possibly understand what it really is!”
“Well,” the priest replied, “Do you?”
And the guy had to admit, heck no, he did not. Not really, not fully, not even more than the tiniest little bit.
It’s a good story for us parents of first communicants to tell ourselves. I keep hearing stories about other kids who floated home from Mass on a cloud of Eucharistic bliss, begging their parents to wake them up early on Monday so they could receive Jesus again as soon as possible. I have not yet managed to raise a kid who says stuff like this. I did have one child who received his first and second Holy Communion at the same Mass. It’s possible he was experiencing an extreme hunger for the Bread of Life, but it’s a lot more likely that just he flaked out, got lost, and drifted back into line with his classmates when he couldn’t find the right pew.
Tarcisus and Imelda, my kids ain’t. However, there’s a reason they call it First Holy Communion: It’s the first, God willing, of many. Many, many, many. Catechism class generally ends for the year around this time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to your kids about what it all means.
As I’ve mentioned, we started reading The How-To Book of the Mass in the evening, right after family prayers and before the little kids go to bed. They start trying to kiss me goodnight and scamper away, and I shout, “Wait, wait, don’t go anywhere!” There is groaning and sighing and flopping and a sudden interest in getting math homework done, and I ignore it all. It’s part of my grand plan to fling bits of theology at the family without ceasing, and hope some of it sticks. This goes for the kid who just received her first communion, and for the kids who’ve been receiving for years, and for the kid who still spends most of the Mass under the pew. And it goes for me and my husband, too. Like the little Ruthenian Catholic baby, we can’t possibly understand what the Eucharist really is. But we’re working on it.
We only read for about five minutes. I’ve found it more helpful to read quick little bits of spiritual reading often, rather than longer chunks less often. The key is to keep going, keep chipping away at it, keep coming back to it when we fall off the wagon and forget to do any catecheis for . . . oops, yikes, mumbledy-mumble waytoomany weeks. Keep coming back to it.
Even if the kids don’t understand everything they hear, at least they are hearing about their faith all the time, so it’s not weird to hear the name “Jesus” outside of Mass. This way, if they do have a question, they will have a natural time to ask it, rather than remembering on their own to broach the topic of religion. (And it’s ten thousand times more useful to answer spontaneous questions the kids have, than for parents to bring up questions they don’t care about.)
Keep coming back to it. That’s the only way we’ll ever make any progress at understanding the unimaginable gift of the Eucharist. That’s the only way our kids will ever make any spiritual progress under our guidance. That’s the only way to live, whether you’re a baby or a callow youth or an exhausted parent. Keep coming back to the well of information about the Faith, just like you keep coming back to the Eucharist. That’s what it’s for!